Mayor Sadiq Khan, who recently made headlines after being elected as Londons first muslim mayor, is taking the initiative to set up a police task force to combat pesky internet trolls whose online postings could potentially be deemed “hateful”. The U.K.s new mayor’s office is ready to crack down on the sort of online rhetoric that, though considered harmless, is now seen as hateful and dangerous.
Following the recent Brexit vote in which citizens voted in favor of Britain leaving the E.U., Mayor Khan and others have complained that there has been a growth in racist and xenophobic comments reported by Londoners on the internet. Though Americans would acknowledge that such remarks qualify as free speech, British officials are more eager to see it as a hate crime and wish to criminalize it.
The mayor has launched a #WeStandTogether hashtag campaign and has teamed up with law enforcement to begin policing comments made on the internet that may be considered “racist”. The BBC reports that the task force will consist of five London-based officers that will “support victims and identify online abuse.” Khan, has expressed that he has been a victim of racism in his younger days, came out against such acts and implored citizens to report any abuse to the cops.
“I simply will not tolerate hate crimes of any form,” Khan continued, “anywhere in London. We must stand together and anyone who sees or is targeted by abusive behavior should report it to the police immediately. ”
The program to crack down on free speech is set to cost the city 1.7 pounds (about $2.2 million dollars) and, for now, is said to last for two years. Working in tandem with the police will be a number of crime fighting volunteers who together will form the “Online Hate Crime Hub”.
The Mayors office released a statement saying that social media such as Twitter and Facebook “provides hate crime perpetrators with a veil of anonymity, making it harder to bring them to justice and potentially impacting on a larger number of people” and that victims of such digital abuse feel “isolated, living in fear of the online behavior materializing in the real world.”
Scotland Yard, the headquarters for the metropolitan police, reported that a total of 599 hate crimes were reported starting the day after the vote which took place on June 23 until July 2. On June 27, Khan, anticipating such an increase, came out and urged police to be “extra vigilant” and on the lookout for hate crimes.
Britain currently has a law which criminalizes “using [a] public electronic communications network in order to cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety,” and can result in a sentence of up to 6 months in prison.
Arguably more dangerous than an anonymous troll on the internet causing an “inconvenience” by bombarding you with an annoying comment on your twitter account is a Mayor appointed police task force in which a select few get to decide which of your words typed and sent across the internet are causing “needless anxiety”. As of May 2015, 1,209 people had been found guilty of breaking the law which was up a considerable amount since it was enacted in 2003. With such strong enforcement from Londons controversial new Mayor, it is likely to see those numbers rise with many internet-loving Londoners scared speechless.