London’s first Muslim Mayor is anything but conventional. As I wrote in a previous article, he came under fire in June for his decision to ban “body shaming” advertisements. Many viewed this ban as censorship.
Now, Mayor Sadiq Khan has promised to fund an “online hate crime hub” to criminalize “trolls” who “target individuals and communities.” Khan has already invested millions of taxpayer pounds in the project to police online speech.
“The purpose of this program is to strengthen the police and community response to this growing crime type,” stated Khan. “[It will] involve a dedicated police team” supported by “volunteers.”
The mayor’s office for policing and crime (MOPAC) is currently looking for a “program manager,” to head the initiative. The program manager, earning a salary of £52,455, will work with social media providers and a handful of police employees to filter and identify online hate crimes, to locate criminals, and to use “appropriate force.”
In May, the EU announced that Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft, and YouTube had “committed” to working more closely with national governments and law enforcement agencies to “criminalize” instances of “illegal hate speech” on the Internet.
London’s Metropolitan police force (MET) says it welcomes the extra work and encourages offended Internet users to report hate crimes. “The Metropolitan police service is committed to working with our partners, including the mayor, to tackle all types of hate crime including offences committed online,” stated a MET spokesperson. “By establishing this unit, we are sending a strong message to those who use online forums to spread hate that their actions will not be tolerated. The Metropolitan police service continues to have a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of hate crime.”
Section 127 of the Communications Act of 2003 is increasingly used to catch Internet trolls, and convictions have increased ten-fold during the past ten years. The Ministry of Justice reports that over 1,200 individuals were found guilty of this sort of offense in 2015 – compared to only 143 in 2004.
The Communications Act criminalizes “using [a] public electronic communications network in order to cause annoyance, inconvenience, or needless anxiety,” and can result in a 6-month prison sentence or a fine of up to £5,000. As you can imagine, what constitutes as “needless anxiety” is up to interpretation.
“Pure rants, very childish [people online] are increasingly criminalized, and as a result of that the police are becoming more and more involved in controlling our morality,” explains Frank Furedi, a sociology professor at the University of Kent. “[The police are] almost playing the role of a moral police. And instead of dealing with real crime in the offline world, [the police] find it’s very convenient to ‘send the message’ in the online world because it’s a relatively easy thing to do.”
Author’s Note: If someone has to think twice before speaking – or before typing – I would argue that his or her freedom of speech has become compromised. Mayor Khan is a dangerous man, and it bothers me that few people seem to realize that. First he went after advertising and now he’s going after online speech; how much longer before he pushes for full censorship?