New duty of care laws must tackle extremism on the internet, says the head of the commission for countering extremism.
Sara Khan, the Government’s key adviser on countering extremism, told The Daily Telegraph it would be a “missed opportunity” if the legislation proposed by the Government failed to tackle “horrific” extremist content online.
Her comments follow evidence uncovered by The Daily Telegraph that Britain First has been using Telegram to promote its Far Right agenda in advance of last weekend’s violence in central London.
Ms Khan said: “Extremism has been profoundly changed by the internet. When groups such as Britain First are kicked off mainstream social media platforms such as Facebook, they simply go on to smaller platforms such as Telegram and continue their activity there.
“The Online Harms bill must ensure it addresses the horrific extremist content that is easily accessible online, otherwise it will be a missed opportunity to help make a real difference.”
On the Thursday before last weekend’s violent protests in central London, Paul Golding, the leader of the far-right group Britain First who was convicted last month of a terrorist offence, boasts to his supporters: “We have found a brilliant and unassailable home…on Telegram.
“It’s great to be able to say what we want and speak the truth without censorship.”
He then urged his supporters to protect the statues from the “supremacist, racist” Black Lives Matter organisation “that has sprung up supported by the media.”
“There is no logic. It’s literally every single white person is an enemy. Every single white person from history has to go. It’s like a war against anyone who is white or anyone who existed who is white.
“It’s a racist campaign to destroy our heritage, our traditions, our history because they believe they have got grievances against us.”
It comes just a month after Mr Golding was found guilty of an offence under the Terrorism Act after refusing to give police access to his mobile phone on his return from a political trip to Russia.
Mr Golding, 38, was stopped at Heathrow by Metropolitan police officers on 23 October last year on his way back from Moscow.
He refused to give the pin codes for an iPhone and Apple computer and was later charged with wilfully refusing to comply with a duty under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act.
Golding denied the charge but was found guilty following a trial at Westminster magistrates court in London last month.
Ms Khan said: “Violence at this and last weekend’s protests have been utterly unacceptable. The right to protest is a fundamental right in our country, but unfortunately a small minority abuse this right to engage in hate, violence and public disorder. ‘
She said extremist groups repeatedly engaged in misinformation and exploited tensions both online and offline to propagate their own racist or xenophobic narratives.”
She said extremism had been “profoundly changed” by the internet. Across a sample of 5 extremists and 10 terrorists in the UK, the internet was shown to have provided more opportunities for individuals to become radicalised than through offline interaction.
“The onus has to be on social media companies to take further steps to prevent extremists from using their platforms to spread their hateful content, and to protect individuals who suffer abuse and hatred online.
“This should include firmer steps to remove content and users who post abusive content, taking better account of the victims who are often repeatedly targeted by the same people.
“A regulator with real power, as suggested by the online harms white paper, could make a significant difference. But that remit must include online hateful extremism and our existing laws on inciting hatred also need to be enforceable online.
“Online regulation must be accompanied by strong punitive sanctions for companies who repeatedly fail to take down or prevent the posting of violent and hateful extremist content.”
A report by the Commission on “hateful extremism”, found 45 per cent of those who had seen extremism material, had seen it online. Some 92 per cent of practitioners and 75 per cent of the public said they thought more should be done to counter extremism online.