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Islamophobia online – tackling the haters

Islamophobia online – tackling the haters

Categories: Latest News

Monday January 05 2015

The Independent front page yesterday reports on the anti-Muslim abuse proliferating on social media platforms and the inadequate responses of social media companies to complaints about Facebook and Twitter users posting insulting and abusive messages online.

Oliver Wright reports on some of the posts that have been brought to the attention of Facebook and Twitter:

  • A user posted an image of a girl with a noose around her neck with the caption: “6 per cent of white British girls will become sex slaves to the Islamic slave trade in Britain”.
  • A tweet which reads: “Should have lost World War Two. Your daughters would be getting impregnated by handsome blond Germans instead of Pakistani goat herders. Good job Britain.”
  • On Facebook a posting in response to the beheading of Westerners in Syria is also still easily accessible despite being reported to the company weeks ago. It reads: “For every person beheaded by these sick savages we should drag 10 off the streets and behead them, film it and put it online. For every child they cut in half … we cut one of their children in half. An eye for an eye.”

The examples above reinforce the findings by Bristol University criminologist, Imran Awan, who conducted a survey of anti-Muslim postings on Twitter after the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby last May urging social media companies and the Government to do more to tackle online abuse. Awan also presented his findings to the all party parliamentary group on Islamophobia at a recent meeting of the APPG in Parliament last month.

While the Crown Prosecution Service introduced new guidelines on social media offences to help prosecutors deal with alleged offences, the guidelines have been deemed insufficient given the threshold on what constitutes an offence. Issuing the guidelines in 2012, the CPS stated: “The interim guidelines thus protect the individual from threats or targeted harassment while protecting the expression of unpopular or unfashionable opinion about serious or trivial matters, or banter or humour, even if distasteful to some and painful to those subjected to it.”

The differential threshold in respect of anti-Muslim abuse is further complicated by the law on incitement to religious hatred which omits the application of ‘abusive’ or ‘insulting’ words of behaviour in relation to groups defined by religion, a requirement that groups defined by race are not subject to. In addition, an exemption in the legislation also requires that the law not be applied ‘in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytising or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practising their religion or belief systems.’”

While pointing the finger at social media companies for not doing enough to remove offensive posts from online platforms is a fair comment, it pales in comparison to the weak legislative protection afforded to British Muslims. If the starting point for the community guidelines operated by social media companies is compliance with the law, it is the law that is the biggest challenge.

Moreover, there has been a total lack of political will to seriously address the problem of Islamophobia in the UK, in all its manifestations from online abuse to physical assaults and arson, by politicians. Muslim organisations have been at pains to highlight the concerns of British Muslims at the failure of politicians to do more to tackle Islamophobia through statutory intervention.

Just last week the Communities Secretary drew attention to his department’s work on tackling anti-Semitism given the upsurge in incidents in the last few months. On the subject of anti-Semitic abuse online, Pickles noted that the “Government has worked with the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combatting Antisemitism’s efforts to work constructively with technology and social media companies to set effective protocols for addressing harm.”

Would it be too much to ask that the Government “work constructively with technology and social media companies to set effective protocols for addressing harm” in relation to anti-Muslim online abuse?


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