For the past couple of years, social media, their encryption laws, and illicit and defamatory content have been a subject of conversation. With Facebook’s very close scrutiny to scandals surrounding Telegram and its role in the 6th of January coup, this blog will assess how, by allowing certain content on their platforms, social media giants are not only taking a stance but allowing dangerous acts to take place.
Tolerance towards hate speech, resulting in real-life attacks
In recent years, social media algorithms have been a subject of scrutiny as some defamatory content seems to be accepted, and some not. The algorithm is dangerously lenient towards white supremacist content, hate speech, and misinformation. All the while, social media platforms cite free speech as to why they did not, for instance, block Donald Trump’s social media, and only did it after his speech incited the attack on the Capitol, in which five people lost their lives. We have also seen more outright racist instances of unequal tolerance as “Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have all permanently banned Wiley from using their platforms” after his anti-Semitic tweet spree, which also resulted in the authorities investigating his conduct. As understandable as it is for social media platforms to block people partaking in hate speech, such an aggressive and quick response seemed disproportionate in comparison to their treatment towards openly racist White personalities such as Katie Hopkins or Tommy Robinson. Not only does social media allow hate speech, but those instances of hate speech have been proven to result in hate crimes or political insurgency. Indeed, reports have shown that several Telegram users were placed at Capitol Hill on January 6, and following the 2019 Christchurch attacks, out of 374 far-right Telegram channels, 80 per cent of them were created between the March 15 massacre and October 30, 2019. This type of sudden push towards social media platforms after a terror attack creates a cascading effect, as a 692% increase in UK Islamophobic incidents was reported.
A conservative outlook?
Moreover, we have witnessed a ‘shadow ban’ on stigmatised subjects, such as sex education or mental health. In December 2020, Instagram changed its guidelines to tackle ‘sexual solicitation’, however, it affected not just sex workers but also certified sex educators. Sex education posts are extremely popular, as “hashtag #sexeducation has over 1 million posts.” Many had turned to Instagram, after being banned from Tik Tok, but under the current ban, we see an overall effort to silence sex education. The stigma surrounding mental health has also been displayed by Instagram as it banned the #BPD hashtag, for a mental health condition that is already extremely stigmatised, with “around seven in every 1,000 people in the UK [having] BPD”. The hashtag was not only helpful but also needed, as the stigma surrounding the condition makes it difficult for people to retrieve information on it or feel a sense of community.
Social media: a political tool
Tik Tok, a Chinese-owned company, has been shown to display political views as it effectively ‘shadow banned’ some of its content. Indeed, on Blackout Tuesday, users noticed that the platform had blocked the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and during the Hong Kong protests, the platform blocked posts on the events, effectively restricting information on protests and accounts of police violence to spread on the app. Moreover, the racist narrative of considering Covid-19 as the ‘Chinese virus’, repeatedly used by Trump on Twitter has resulted in increased anti-Asian hate speech and racially-targeted attacks for months and has culminated in the recent attack, when “Robert Aaron Long, a white man, was charged with fatally shooting eight people, including six women of Asian descent, at spas in the Atlanta area”. Outrage sparked as the man was not charged with ‘hate crime’ as “prosecutors determined they lacked enough evidence to prove a racist motive”. The hashtag #Chinesevirus has been shown to display 50% of anti-Asian sentiment, compared to 20% of the hashtags associated with #COVID-19.
Social media platform’s ‘neutral’ stance has allowed posts that were directly linked to instances of hate crimes: Islamophobia, anti-Asian hate, white supremacy, to name but a few. At JAN Trust, we take online hate and hate speech very seriously as we tackle online harms and instances of extremist recruiting through social media. We believe that freedom of speech does not extend to infringing upon another person’s right to be free from harmful language and abuse and that all forms of hate crime should be offences punishable by law. Our Web Guardians™ programme aims to build community resilience, educate and empower mothers to counter extremism and gangs online; our Another Way Forward programme supports and educates young people on the threats posed by online radicalisation, including both Islamist and far-right extremism.
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To report a hate crime: https://www.report-it.org.uk/your_police_force
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