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Mayor launches new unit to tackle online hate crime

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, launched a new police unit, Monday 24th April – the first of its kind in the UK - to help tackle online hate crime and improve support for victims across the capital, as part of his manifesto commitment to ensure a zero-tolerance approach to hate crime of all forms. 

Five dedicated Met police officers, led by a Detective Inspector, make up the new Online Hate Crime Hub, which aims to improve the police response to online hate by gathering intelligence, improving understanding and testing new investigation methods. 

Working with community groups, social media organisations, academic hate crime specialists and criminal justice partners, these specially recruited and trained officers will help to identify, prevent and investigate these crimes, including abuse on Twitter and Facebook. 

Based in West London’s Empress State Building, the Hub is a key part of the Mayor’s new Police and Crime Plan, which has victims and their needs at its heart. Led by the Mayor’s Office for Policing And Crime (MOPAC), the Met and key partners, the Hub has been developed out of concerns from community organisations around the increasing use of social media and the internet to spread hatred against minority and vulnerable groups and individuals. 

The Mayor brought together national and international experts in tackling online hate and extremism at his inaugural Online Hate Crime Summit, the first of its kind in the UK. Representatives from Twitter, Facebook, Crown Prosecution Service, the Met and charities joined victims of online hate at City Hall to discuss how they can work better together to tackle online hate and support those affected by it. 

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “We know hate crime has a huge impact on those who experience it, and that online hate, where abusers mistakenly believe they are hidden behind a screen, can be particularly damaging. 

“My approach is clear: there must be zero tolerance of this  behaviour, and we are working to improve protection for victims by taking advice from anti-hate organisations, who will examine whether something is actively causing harm and should be removed.

“The Online Hate Crime Hub will work with community experts to develop the police’s understanding of online hate, helping officers tackle it more effectively and improving services for victims. We need to encourage more victims to report incidents, and explore new ways of  identifying, preventing and challenging hate crime in all forms.” 

Whilst between two and five per cent of hate crimes reported to the Met are online, community organisations suggest the number of offences may be much higher. Jewish organisation, Community Security Trust, cites 20 per cent, suggesting these incidents are significantly under-reported* and Tell MAMA, which measures Islamaphobic hate nationally, estimates that over 70 per cent of the reports it receives are about online hate. A key aim of the Online Hate Crime Hub is to build a stronger evidence base and better understanding of the scope, nature and scale of online hate, in order to tackle it. 

Once an online hate crime has been reported, it will be automatically referred to the Hub, which will provide referrals to specialist victim support partners and work with the relevant borough officers to carry out a thorough investigation. Discussions are also underway between MOPAC, Stop Hate UK and leading social media companies to develop appropriate online sanctions for perpetrators of online hate, where there is evidence of significant harm to victims.

 

Victoria Wright, a London-based disability and disfigurement rights campaigner who has experienced online hate, spoke at today’s summit. She said: “As a woman with a severe facial disfigurement, I’ve often found myself subjected to horrendous online abuse because of my disability. It has, at times, been so awful that I’ve been left fearful for my physical safety too, and I know that I’m not alone in this experience. It’s vital that those of us who are victims of online hate crime receive a robust response from the police as well as being better supported by social media companies. The Online Hate Crime Hub is a much needed initiative that will make a real difference, both in helping people to feel protected and reducing this type of crime in the first place.” 

The Hub has been granted £452,000 by the Home Office Police Innovation Fund, with the remainder of funding coming from MOPAC and the Met. It has been welcomed by partners including the Ministry of Justice, the National Police Chiefs Council, London Councils and DEMOS, a cross-party think tank which researches online abuse.