Facebook and Twitter have come under fire for failing to crack down on abusive online trolls
THE British government has launched a crackdown on internet hate speech in a move that civil liberties campaigners have described as “a step closer to an Orwellian nightmare”.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced the mobilisation of a national police hub that will monitor social media posts, identify anonymous users and recommend the removal of hateful material to online platforms.
Run by a “small team of specialist officers”, the hub will assess whether complaints made about online posts amount to crime and, where it sees fit, put pressure on internet giants including Facebook and Twitter to delete the content.
The unit will also hunt down the identities of anonymous users suspected of sharing hateful messages that target people because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or gender.
The new measures include improved support for victims of hate crime and a drive to increase the prosecution of trolls who harass others on the internet.
Ms Rudd said: “What is illegal offline is illegal online, and those who commit these cowardly crimes should be met with the full force of the law.
“The national online hate crime hub that we are funding is an important step to ensure more victims have the confidence to come forward and report the vile abuse to which they are being subjected.
She added: “The hub will also improve our understanding of the scale and nature of this despicable form of abuse.
“With the police, we will use this new intelligence to adapt our response so that even more victims are safeguarded and perpetrators punished.”
Assistant chief constable, and member the National Police Chief’s Council, Mark Hamilton said the hub would “recognise and will uphold the right to free speech even when it causes offence – but this does not extend to inciting hatred or threatening people”.
But the move has sparked outrage from free speech campaigners who say it marks one “step closer to an Orwellian nightmare”.
Claire Fox, Director of the Institute of Ideas, which organises a free speech-orientated festival called the Battle of Ideas, says the authorities should not be trusted to define hate, which is a “very subjective category”.
Speaking to The Sun Online, she said: “This move to prosecute more online trolls is creating a whole new set of speech crimes and will likely distract from proper police work.
“This will likely chill our ability to debate freely at the very time when, as a society, we need more discussion and argument about how we respond to contemporary challenges.
“The best way to challenge abhorrent views is to take them on and expose them with free and open debate rather than dialling 999.”
The hub’s £200,000 initial funding comes amid fears the cost of policing the internet could be a drain on scarce resources after sweeping cuts to forces across the UK.
The number of police officers in the UK fell sharply between 2010 and 2016, from 144,353 to 122,859.
In 2012, European Commissioner for human rights Thomas Hammarberg warned of the risks of regulating speech online.
Speaking the day before he left office, he said: “Politicians are at a bit of loss to know how to… protect internet freedom while also having regulations against [things like] hate speech and child pornography.
“There are limits to freedom of expression but regulators don’t know how to handle this.
“People are at a loss to know how to apply rules for the traditional media to the new media. It’s tricky and that’s why there needs to be a more thorough discussion about this.”