Equality, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs: these are the values that bring us together across cultures, religions and race. Sadly these are not the values we see readily online and are absent when see hate online at a record high.
The parliamentary inquiry into the role of social media companies in addressing hate crime and illegal content online found that extremism is growing online in parallel with the growth of social media. Last April, Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, the National Police Chief’s Council’s hate crime lead, said that there had been a significant increase in online hate crime over the last 24 to 36 months. In fact 126,000 extremist tweets were found online in March 2017, 80% of which were considered Islamophobic.
YouTube was found to be awash with videos that promoted far-right racist tropes, for example titles that included “White Genocide Europe—Britain is waking up”, “Diversity is a code word for white genocide” and “Jews admit organizing White Genocide” as well as holocaust denial videos including “The Greatest Lie Ever Told”, “The Great Jewish Lie” and “The Sick Lies of a Holocaust ‘Survivor’”.
Beyond hate, online platforms are hotbeds for radicalization: 53% of Islamist terrorists have been inspired by extremist content online. Think tank the Policy Exchange conservatively records that ISIS creates around 100 pieces of propaganda on average every day, with twitter accounting for 40% of the identifiable jihadist content online. Whilst jihadist content and hateful extremist messaging continues to flood the online space we have also seen a dramatic rise in terror incidents within the UK, five in the last year. A direct correlation cannot be drawn but a possible link would be far too dangerous to ignore.
How do we stand a chance against such bleak numbers and statistics? What can we as a community on and offline set against such hate? Be it Islamist extremism, homophobia or gender inequality and violence – those on the polar ends of the spectrum seem to take up more space in public discourse. Understandably so, as they feel they have something to shout about.
The middle ground that neither accepts far right extremism nor Islamist extremism or homophobia or gender inequality and violence is woefully silent. That puts us in great danger of our human rights based values becoming second place to hate and intolerance.
Where does this leave us? Neither helpless nor hopeless.
With the rise of digital and social media we have the same opportunities to speak up as radical groups do. We too, can fill the void. We can step into public space and counter negativity and disregard for human life with positive messages and counter narratives.
There have been great examples of communities making a stand #metoo being one of the most prevalent movements. #Metoo reached millions of people around the world and gave those who had previously silently suffered a voice.
Most recently, in response to a sick letter calling for a ‘punish a Muslim day’ on the 3rd April 2018, communities across the UK stood up and spoke out against such bigotry and hate. #Loveamuslimday encouraged individuals and communities alike to show unity and solidarity.
Nottingham is hosted a Love a Muslim Day event. Bradford, Wakefield, Sheffield and Leeds joined in too. As a nation that prides itself on British values we need to ensure that movements like #loveamuslimday reach far and wide, flooding our online spaces with messages of unity, solidarity and tolerance.
Edmund Burke said ‘all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.’ With an unacceptable rise in intolerance in our society it is time we took to the platforms that hateful extremists are using already to spread their islamophobia, homophobia, xenophobia and misogyny and make a stand for the shared values that unite our diverse nation.