Minister pledges new laws after Twitter failure on Wiley

EXCLUSIVE: Digital and Culture Secretary says social media giants will be ‘required to ensure antisemitism cannot flourish’


Wiley with the Ivor Inspiration Award during the Annual Ivor Novello Songwriting Awards at Grosvenor House in London.

Digital and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has said that Twitter’s failure to deal with a series of antisemitic posts by rapper Wiley lasting 48 hours is “yet more evidence that self-regulation isn’t working” — and has confirmed that “the government must and will step in”.

Mr Dowden vowed to “impose tough penalties on the well-resourced social media giants”. Writing for the JC today, he said legislation under the Online Harms Bill would mean Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the other social media companies “will be required to put protections in place to ensure that racist antisemitism cannot fester and flourish on their sites.”

He pledged that the government “will be the first in the world” to introduce laws that make social media safe and tolerant rather than “a safe space for antisemitism”.

Mr Dowden’s remarks follow the outcry that erupted within the Jewish community over the stream of antisemitic remarks unleashed by Wiley on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook from last Thursday.

In tweets to his 494,200 followers he claimed: “There are 2 sets of people who nobody has really wanted to challenge #Jewish & #KKK but being in business for 20 years you start to undestand [sic] why.”

He added “Red Necks Are the KKK and Jewish people are the Law...Work that out.”

In a further message he wrote: “If you work for a company owned by 2 Jewish men and you challenge the Jewish community in anyway of course you will get fired.”

In other posts he called Jews snakes and cowards and wrote: “Golders Green yes see you soon. I will come on my own”, and “Who called the police? Are you from Golders Green? I am coming to sit with you in Golders Green...”

In another he called for Jews to “hold some corn” — a slang expression meaning to be shot.

After doing nothing for 24 hours, despite receiving many complaints, Twitter then suspended the rapper, whose real name is Richard Cowie, for a few hours before suspending him for seven days — while leaving many of his antisemitic posts up. Finally, after a mass 48-hour walkout of Twitter organised by grassroots activists, the company apologised for its slowness to act and removed his account.

On Tuesday Facebook announced it had barred him after he continued to post messages that included tropes about Jewish power.

On Wednesday morning the 48-hour walkout from Twitter, under the hashtag #NoSafeSpaceForJewHate, came to an end. Led by the actress Tracy-Ann Oberman and backed by campaigners against antisemitism as well as the JC, it received widespread support from politicians of all parties including Home Secretary Priti Patel, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, communal organisations, celebrities, writers and Muslim and black community campaigners.

In an unprecedented letter to the heads of Twitter and Facebook, the Chief Rabbi said their inaction “amounts to complicity” and the prime minister’s spokesman said the social media firms needed “to do better”.

Ms Oberman told the JC she had been moved to demand that Twitter immediately remove the “anti-Jewish hate rant.” The idea for a walkout came to her during a conversation on Friday night with antisemitism campaigner Saul Freeman. On Saturday morning they contacted a small group of allies who started to organise.

By Saturday afternoon the hashtag had started to trend and the idea of a walkout was getting mass support on Twitter.

“We picked up so much support, incredible people came on board - politicians, actors, musicians, journalists, other grime artists,” Ms Oberman said. “It seemed to unite a lot of people because they could see the antisemitism and they could see the megaphone that Twitter, and then Instagram and Facebook, had given a man to preach this hatred to over a million people who followed him.

“People could finally see what giving a platform to a racist could do,” she added.

Ms Oberman revealed she had had conversations with senior people at Twitter in which she said the company could not claim to be acting over antisemitism and hate speech when the Wiley incident had shown they were not.

“What they can’t have is the veneer of respectability saying there were guidelines and charters in place saying hatred, bullying and racism was not permitted - and then not to act on it when it appears,” she said.

“That was my big point to the Twitter bosses – either you are a free for all, and in which case I won’t use your platform, or you regulate.

“People power has made these social media sites realise the game is up,” she added.  “I think this is a turning point – and I want all our communities to work together going forwards.”

On Wednesday Twitter issued a statement saying: “We are sorry we did not move faster.”

They also wrote to the Board, JLC and the CST to issue a further apology.

In an interview with Sky News on Wednesday, Wiley said: “I just want to apologise for generalising and going outside of the people who I was talking to within the workspace and workplace I work in.

“My comments should not have been directed to all Jews or Jewish people.”

The CST discovered that Wiley was actually in Rotterdam at the time he was posting the messages on Tuesday.

The Metropolitan Police have said they are investigating Wiley’s posting to assess whether any crime has been committed.

Read the full piece by Oliver Dowden here.

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