Social media companies are giving a platform to racist abusers and that must change – Steve Cardownie

Last week I wrote about the racist abuse suffered by three English players after they failed to convert their penalties against Italy in the Euro 2020 Final and I make no apologies for returning to the subject this week as Lewis Hamilton, the F1 world champion, was also subjected to similar abuse.

By Steve Cardownie
Wednesday, 21st July 2021, 4:55 am
Lewis Hamilton, left, pours Champagne over his head on the podium after winning the Formula One Grand Prix at Silverstone (Picture: Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)
Lewis Hamilton, left, pours Champagne over his head on the podium after winning the Formula One Grand Prix at Silverstone (Picture: Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)

Hamilton won last Sunday’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone despite receiving a ten-second penalty after a collision with his fiercest rival Max Verstappen which resulted in the Dutch driver crashing out.

His team, Red Bull Racing, said that it was “disgusted and saddened” at the abuse directed towards Hamilton. Their statement read: “While we may be fierce rivals on-track, we are all united against racism. We condemn racist abuse of any kind towards our team, our competitors and our fans. There is never any excuse for it, there is certainly no place for it in our sport and those responsible should be held accountable.”

The legislative process for the Westminster government’s draft Online Safety Bill has just begun and, while it should force social media firms to deal with abuse when it is passed, in the meantime racists continue to peddle their bile, safe in the knowledge that they are afforded protection, either behind a cloak of anonymity, or because of social media companies’ failure to take appropriate action.

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Facebook, which owns Instagram, stated that “the racist abuse directed at Hamilton during and after the British Grand Prix is unacceptable and we’ve removed a number of comments from Instagram”.

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The company also highlighted a number of safety features that it deploys “which can mean that no one has to see this type of abuse” and tellingly it went on to say that “no single thing will fix this challenge overnight but we’re committed to work to keep our community safe from abuse”.

The main problem is that social-media platforms have not been regulated in the same manner as more traditional media because they are not regarded as publishers or broadcasters.

Facebook, with its two billion users, is being swamped by the sheer volume of content and video uploaded in real time by anybody who wishes to do so and the algorithms that it deploys to seek out offensive material are not sophisticated enough to cope so need further investment.

Facebook, however, is still being called out for failing to take action against abusers.

It has been reported that the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) tracked 31 accounts which abused Hamilton and reported them to the social media platform but after they remained live, Imran Ahmed, the chief executive of CCDH, said it was “beyond belief, after all the promises made in the last week by social media companies, that Instagram has failed to take any action against its users who have now racially abused Lewis Hamilton By failing to act on racism towards England players last week, Instagram have created a culture of impunity for racists. It has publicly promised to issue automatic lifetime bans when it has clear, irrefutable evidence of serious racial hatred.”

It is clear that the failure of social media platforms to take action against racist abusers has only served to embolden them rather than deter them. Action is required – not fine words!

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