Racists must be prosecuted, not moderated

The wave of racist comments on social media that has followed the England football defeat is reprehensible: but so is the fiction that this problem must be ‘solved’ by social media companies. Government alone can ensure that the law is enforced, and see that racists are prosecuted. Making this entirely Facebook and Twitter’s problem to solve is simply an abdication of responsibility.

There is an assumption that social media comments are somehow ‘anonymous’ and the posters cannot be held to account. This is untrue, in the vast majority of cases. There is a further assumption that somehow the ‘scale’ of comments mean that it is impossible to address all the breaches of the law. This again misses the point.

No law is perfectly enforced. The effect of prosecutions is meant to be dissuasive. If the Police act now to ensure that racists are found and prosecuted, particularly those whose actions are most reprehensible, or have had the most impact, then the result is that others will understand that their actions have consequences.

If on the other hand, as Priti Patel seems to believe, the solution is for social media companies to remove content and accounts, then racist actions in fact have no real consequence. There is no real risk to someone from having a social media account deleted. It is an inconvenience, not a punishment. The racists are free to do the same again, and learn that they are not going to be punished. Such an approach fails to draw the line, and fails the victims of racism.

The Football Association need to reconsider their calls for social media companies to bear the weight of the responsibility for dealing with racists perpetuating hate. If the FA’s calls were directed towards the Police and prosecutors to deal with offenders, then we could see real results, and actual convictions.

The Online Safety Bill’s approach continues to perpetuate the myth that we cannot deal with criminals online. In the case of racist football ‘fans’, this is extraordinarily incorrect. Most will not be trying to hide who they are, and will be easily identifiable through routine data requests. A visit from a Police Officer, some prosecutions and in other cases cautions, would go a long way to dealing with this problem in a way that social media regulation never can.

We should take the anger felt today against racist abuse of footballers and turn it into something positive: actual action against racists. Anything less is a failure of our legal and policing system and a de facto accommodation with racism.

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