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MPs call for social media banning orders

Barry Collins
9 Feb 2015
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Racist users of Twitter and Facebook should be banned from the services, say MPs

People who use social media to post racist messages should be banned by law from using the services in the future, a committee of MPs has recommended. The report from the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism urges the Crown Prosecution Service to consider the use of prevention orders to stop those prosecuted of hate crimes from returning to social media.

The report highlights how social media services have exposed members of the Jewish community to antisemitic abuse that they wouldn't otherwise face in their daily lives. "Social media has enabled antisemitic abuse as one submission put it, 'to penetrate unbidden into the home and workplace, changing the nature of people’s experience, raising the level of many people’s anxiety, and, in some cases overwhelming them," the report states.

"We have seen that Jewish individuals and organisations were singled out and targeted for antisemitic abuse on social media. The volume of communication is too vast to describe in detail but suffice to say we were all shocked by the ferocity and vulgarity of the antisemitism and the ease with which it was spread."

The MPs admit that policing abuse on social media sites is difficult for both the companies and law enforcement. "Given the scale of social media content produced on a daily, let alone minute-by-minute basis, we have some albeit limited sympathy for the companies that are responsible for hosting it," the MPs state.

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"Whilst there is rightly an expectation on those companies to act as there is on government, police and prosecuting authorities, so too civil society has a crucial role to play. The importance of third-party reporting groups cannot be underestimated and users must be vigilant to seek out and report racist and other abusive content."

However, the MPs say prosecutors should do more to keep offenders from simply re-opening accounts to continue abusing their victims. "We recommend that the Crown Prosecution Service undertakes a review to examine the applicability of prevention orders to hate crime offences and if appropriate, take steps to implement them," the report concludes. 

The difficulty for the police is how to practically enforce such banning orders, were they to be implemented. As the report concedes, many people access social media sites via mobile phones and that, when caught, "abusers simply get a new phone and continue to abuse others". The MPs say "social media companies need to find innovative solutions to this problem", which is a delightful piece of buck passing. 

Nevertheless, the social media firms do seem to be increasingly wary of the problem of abuse on their sites. Twitter CEO Dick Costolo admitted last week that he was "ashamed" of how poorly Twitter had dealt with trolling on its service, promising to be "more aggressive on this front". 

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