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The mayor of London read racist tweets about himself during SXSW as a plea for Facebook and Twitter to stop hate speech

Mayor of London Sadiq Khaan.
REUTERS/Matthew Childs

  • London Mayor Sadiq Khan asked Facebook and Twitter to do more in combatting hate speech during a talk at SXSW.
  • During the talk, he read social media hate speech about himself.
  • He suggested that tech companies should face fines if they don’t remove hate speech quickly.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan made a moving plea for tech companies to take on hate speech at the annual SXSW conference in Austin, Texas, on Monday.

During his talk, the mayor read racist tweets about himself.

“I say kill the mayor of London and you’ll be rid of one Muslim terrorist,” Khan read aloud. “I’d pay for someone to execute Sadiq Kahn.”

Khan, the first Muslim mayor of a Western capital city, said he read the half a dozen tweets or so not to “be portrayed as a victim” or “ask for sympathy, but to illustrate that big tech has further to go in making the internet free of hate speech.

“But ask yourself this, what happens when young boys and girls from minority backgrounds see this kind of thing on their timelines or experience this themselves?” Kahn said.

Kahn warned that tweets like the ones addressed to him send a message to minority children that if they don’t look a certain way or subscribe to the same establishment beliefs, they will grow up thinking there’s no path for them in high-profile careers.

“We simply must do more to protect people online,” Kahn said.

Kahn urged companies like Facebook and Twitter to show “a stronger duty of care,” so that “social media platforms can live up to their promises to connect, unify, and democratize the sharing of information and be places where everyone feels welcomed and valued.”

The London mayor offered a few recommendations. He suggested that Facebook and Twitter remove offensive content and misinformation faster. If they don’t, he said, they should face fines.

Germany began enforcing a new rule in January that gives social media platforms just 24 hours to decide if something is hate speech. German police are investigating far-right politician Beatrix von Storch after she described Muslims as “barbarians” on Facebook and Twitter.

Kahn said he expects Londoners to pressure their representatives to create a similar rule.

“This isn’t about depriving people of free speech — this is about inciting hatred,” Kahn said. “This is about things that divide our community.”

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