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MPs Call for ‘Internet ASBOs’

Clamping Down On Online Abuse


There are plenty of measures to restrict sex offenders’ online activity, but hardly any intended to counter hate-crimes. Following the Gaza conflict escalating last summer, Twitter saw a pronounced rise in anti-Semitism. According to a report submitted by MPs examining the issue, #HilterWasRight trended heavily on Twitter in July, whilst Facebook saw a rise in “Hitlarian themes and imagery”.

The report moves on to address the issue directly:

“There is an allowance in the law for banning or blocking individuals from certain aspects of internet communication in relation to sexual offences. Informal feedback we have received from policy experts indicates that this is a potential area of exploration for prosecutors in relation to hate crime.”

This is all the more timely, given that Twitter CEO Dick Costolo recently shouldered the blame for the site’s failure to properly deal with abusive behaviour. The report is primarily geared towards anti-Semitism, but it could theoretically have a far wider reach, since almost anyone is fair game for online abuse, under the right circumstances.

If this initiative follows through, users with a record of repeated inflammatory behaviour could face bans from Twitter, Facebook and other platforms. The counter-argument is that such a restriction would be a violation of freedom of speech, a form of forced-censorship. So where does the distinction lie between potentially offensive statement and full-on hate crime? Online, it takes a hell of a lot to cross that boundary, since most enforced hate crime laws concern incidents that have some other criminal element to them, such as violence, threats or vandalism. It’s illegal to incite hatred, but only in terms of race, religion or sexual orientation, everything else constitutes a bit of a grey area.


Basically, any legal action would require there to be some attempt to incite violence against a particular group. Websites of course have their own systems of moderation and censorship, but it varies and merely blocking out specific terms often isn’t enough, all the hater in question has to do is think a little harder about their choice of words and the issue disappears. Normally when a country takes any direct, stringent action against user comments, said country tends to be fairly inclined towards heavy censorship anyway. China springs immediately to mind.

Besides blacklisting search engine keywords, suspiciously timed mass shut-downs and heavy moderation, Chinese forums have taken to ‘phantom banning’ in the past. Phantom banning entails singling out a troublemaker and making anything they post invisible to everyone but them, meaning that from their point of view they are still posting as normal, but receiving no reaction or response. As unethical as that is, it’s pretty clever, being that most ‘trolls’ are only doing what they do to draw attention to themselves.

A far as this home-grown initiative is concerned, it’s unlikely to get much further, especially if it remains within the isolated context of anti-Semitism. The levels of prejudice in that area may well be on the up, but to protect one specific group whilst ignoring all others is never going to play. If any method of protection is really needed, it’s against targeted abuse against individuals, cyber-bullying, basically. As much as discriminative hatred is unacceptable, the likelihood of abuse leading to something worse (mental breakdown, suicide or whatever else) is far higher when the nastiness becomes less general and more personal.

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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MPs Call for ‘Internet ASBOs’ Reviewed by Unknown on Tuesday, February 10, 2015 Rating: 5
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