Commentary

Social Networks Must Lead In Responsibility

The other day on BBC Radio I heard a shocking program about how far-right extremists were bullying Muslims on social networks, most notably Twitter. The report featured several cases where the government-backed project, “Tell Mama”, which was set up to monitor anti-Muslim hate, had been involved. The organisation has recorded 632 incidents in its first year of operation.

The UK project is based on the Community Security Trust's model, which records anti-Semitic incidents. “Tell Mama” is run by interfaith organisation Faith Matters, which says victims who have come forward range from a 5-year-old to an 89-year-old.They say women are targeted more than men, and the majority of incidents are online abuse. Mama stands for Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks and Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, said he wants to see a notable change in what is considered acceptable behaviour in the UK.
The key phrase here is “acceptable behaviour in the UK”. These are hate crimes perpetuated by British citizens upon each other. So why is one of the key issues stopping the UK police the US First Amendment? For those not up on their American political history this is the amendment which deals with the Freedom of Speech. 

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Superintendent Paul Giannasi from the Association of Chief Police Officers explained:

“Social media poses massive challenges for the police especially as we have to cope with the American First Amendment to the Constitution. We cannot force action in the US where the companies are hosted or the servers are hosted. We have to go to the US Supreme Court to get Twitter to pass us information”.

Surely this is a ridiculous situation? How can Twitter in the UK (and the other social networks) position themselves behind an amendment that was adopted in the US in 1791? Fiyaz Mughal agrees:

“Twitter has a social responsibility and they are simply not listening. They need to address their responsibilities to the UK and not hide behind the First Amendment”.

In their defence, Twitter have said that they do have a Twitter Safety Team, they do check each report but they do need to prioritise those. When pushed on the First Amendment point, they gave no further comment. To be fair Twitter have always maintained that if it’s legal to say what you want to say then you can say it on Twitter, but for many that’s just not good enough. A few weeks back there were calls to boycott Twitter over the rape threats made to Caroline Criado Perez, a prominent feminist. MPs and many other public figures joined over 140,000 others in signing a petition which did result in Twitter introducing the ‘Report Abuse’ button.

Surely this is a better example of democracy in action than hiding behind a 222-year-old ruling which was obviously never meant for this kind of issue. It shows that Twitter will respond if pushed hard enough. We’ve also seen how YouTube have responded over abusive comments under the videos and how Google and Microsoft have come together to attempt to deal with child pornography problem. Sadly we’ve also seen Facebook refuse to back down over the issue of beheading videos in a frankly ridiculous fashion.

The many issues that the social networks have to deal with show that they will have to take the lead in social responsibility and not rely totally on the laws of any single country. I’ve written before on the responsibility of the individual over their social shadow; surely now it’s the turn of the networks to realise they are massive global brands with a massive global responsibility as well.

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