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Home Secretary determined to take action against violent content in online world

by Brian Sims
Home Secretary Sajid Javid

Home Secretary Sajid Javid

Home Secretary Sajid Javid has confirmed that a new £1.38 million Government-funded social media hub will be fully operational at the end of May. A 17-strong team of dedicated police staff and officers will be tasked with disrupting and removing overt and covert gang-related online content from the Internet.

Chairing the latest meeting of the Serious Violence Task Force, the Home Secretary heard what steps social media companies have taken to tackle violent content online. At the meeting, senior leaders from Google and Facebook updated members on what they’re doing to protect vulnerable users from harmful content, including videos promoting violence.

The news comes after the Government launched the Online Harms White Paper which proposes a new statutory Duty of Care on social media companies, with  an independent regulator appointed to enforce the new standards.

Javid said: “Social media is increasingly being used as a platform to incite violence, promote gang culture and legitimise the use of knives. I will not let this continue. Tech firms have been making progress in tackling this harmful content, but more needs to be done. Our Online Harms White Paper will ensure they have a legal duty to protect their users. By meeting routinely in forums like the Serious Violence Task Force, we can continue to hold these companies to account.”

The Home Secretary added: “We also need the strongest possible law enforcement response. The national police social media hub will ensure that a team of dedicated officers is continually identifying and taking action against gang-related content.”

The new national police social media hub will be established within the Metropolitan Police Service, transforming the current capability and extending its reach to other forces. The team will focus on investigative, disruption and enforcement work against specific gang targets. The hub will also make referrals to social media companies such that illegal and harmful content can be taken down immediately.

Commitment to tackle violent crime

The Government’s social media hub is part of its Serious Violence Strategy which puts greater focus on steering young people away from a life of crime alongside a robust law enforcement response.

Speaking at the Task Force meeting about the hub’s launch, Duncan Ball (Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service and national policing lead on the subjects of gangs, County Lines and knife crime) said: “The police service is wholly committed to doing everything it can to tackle violent crime and the impact that it has on our communities. Social media is playing a role in escalating violence between young people and enabling content that glamorises or encourages violence and crime. This funding from the Home Office is welcome and enables us to continue developing our capability to tackle violence that originates online.”

DAC Ball went on to state: “By working together with social media companies, we will ensure that material that attempts to lure young people into a dangerous and violent life of crime, and encourages violence, is quickly dealt with in order to cut off this outlet for gangs and criminals.”

Code of Practice

As part of fulfilling a new Duty of Care to end users of their platforms, social media firms will be expected to do much more to tackle serious violence content. A Code of Practice will be devised by an independent regulator to ensure social media platforms know what’s expected of them.

Some of the areas the Home Office expects the regulator to include in that Code of Practice include:

*guidance for companies to outline what activity and material constitutes violent or violence-related content

*the timeframe for content to be removed

*steps companies should take to continually review their efforts in tackling this content

*the reasonable steps companies should take when dealing with accounts that have uploaded, engaged with or disseminated violent content

It’s already an offence to incite, assist or encourage violence online. This further action will build upon the work of the police and social media companies to tackle serious violence.

The Government is currently consulting on new laws to tackle online harms, including the hosting of gang-related content (and most especially that which incites violence and glamorises weapons).

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