Ministers need to push through legislative efforts to clamp down on online hate, Angela Rayner and Sadiq Khan have argued, as they said abuse and prejudice had become “monetised”.
Speaking at a Labour conference fringe event in Liverpool, Khan, the mayor of London, said analysis had uncovered 230,000 racist tweets about him sent since he took the role in 2016, and that barely any were removed.
Rayner, the party’s deputy leader, said the torrent of abuse was putting off people from standing for office, or in some cases from even giving their opinions online.
Both said the government needed to push ahead with the online harms bill, which was delayed from the summer and could be heavily redrafted under Liz Truss.
“They’ve tried to self-regulate. They’ve not been able to do it. It’s time for us to legislate,” Rayner said. “We need to find a way for these organisations to accept responsibility for that space … It’s your gaff – sort it out.”
Rayner told the audience that such was the abuse she faced that she almost never read online comments or tweets, generally only doing so if her staff found one that was potentially criminal and she needed to read it to give police a victim impact statement.
Much of this often came from people who were damaged, Rayner argued. She said: “It acts for a catalyst for people who have got trauma themselves and revisit that trauma.”
Khan said his office had reported 100 of the most offensive tweets about him to Twitter, with only four taken down.
“In the absence of them regulating themselves, the government has got to regulate companies like Facebook and Twitter,” he said. “That’s why the online harms bills is so important. Hate has been monetised.
“What Twitter and others have got to be doing is investing in algorithms or staff to take this stuff down as soon as it goes up, and especially once it’s reported. If I was breaching copyright with a song someone else had written, it would be taken down straight away.”
Both politicians condemned some political opponents and parts of the traditional media for propagating dangerous myths in the first place.
Khan noted media coverage in the 2016 mayoral election linking him, as a Muslim, to Islamist terrorism, and that his Conservative opponent, Zac Goldsmith, sought to frighten Londoners of Hindu background.
“What he did is he mainstreamed and normalised prejudices that exist against people of my faith,” Khan said, adding that some news organisations had followed suit.
“What we’ve realised now is that when you use my name, it’s good clickbait for traffic,” he said. “It’s a trickle-down tone being set by the mainstream media. The reality is, there are some journalists who say untrue things about me and Angela, because they know it attracts readers. It’s good for business.”