Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, while on stage delivering one of the keynote speeches at the Austin-based South by South West tech conference, read out racist tweets he’d received as Mayor of London. After reading out six of the tweets he said he could go on and on, but instead moved on to a message putting pressure on both tech companies and politicians to do more to combat online hate-speech.
The Guardian dug up a few of the tweets which included:
Deport all muslims and make london white again, all problems will be gone
— /mas/ (@MemAuSe) August 6, 2017
— Geralt (@warprivia) September 15, 2017
“What happens when young boys and girls from minority backgrounds see this kind of thing on their timelines,” he said, “or experience it themselves? Or someone thinking about becoming a politician? And what about young girls and women who are being driven from these platforms, reversing our long fight for gender equality?”
He accused governments of sitting on their hands while the tech revolution happened around them, continuing, “There’s been a dereliction of duty on the part of politicians and policymakers to ensure that the rapid growth in technology is utilised and steered in a direction that benefits us all.”
The London mayor threatened legislation if tech companies did not embrace “a stronger duty of care”.
In an interview with NPR on Sunday Khan was asked whether this was the right approach to tech companies, whether their innovation was more powerful if left unregulated, to which Khan responded, “Well, disruptive pioneers is nothing new… But at the same time, this same medium is being used to spread messages of hatred to divide communities. And just like we stop hate speech that’s said face-to-face, we’ve got to work with the disrupters to stop hate speech that works via social media.”
The borderline between regulation and social responsibility is the source of sharp contrast between the US and EU approach to technology. The US has generally taken a hands-off approach to technology regulation, while the EU brings in GDPR in May which will constitute by far the largest tech-specific set of regulations in the developed, democratic world.
In his SXSW address, Khan highlighted the talent and resources at the disposal of tech companies, implicitly pointing to the implausibility of objections that it would be difficult to implement inhibitions on hate-speech without hindering free speech and innovation.
He also made comment of the romanticism around tech companies, “We can’t confuse matters by thinking that because a business is smart, disruptive – popular, even – and has a really neat app, it somehow has a right to have a different regulatory status to its competitors.”