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Sadiq Khan reads out racist tweets in call for tighter tech regulation

The Guardian logo The Guardian 12/03/2018 Anushka Asthana and Samuel Gibbs
Sadiq Khan: London mayor Sadiq Khan will criticise government and policy makers for failing to ensure technological progress benefits all. © Reuters London mayor Sadiq Khan will criticise government and policy makers for failing to ensure technological progress benefits all.

Sadiq Khan has revealed he was called a “muzzie terrorist” and faced death threats in a string of racist social media messages that he warned could put black, asian and minority ethnic people off a career in politics.

The mayor of London used a speech in the US to read out six abusive tweets, saying he “could go on and on”, as he accused the government of a “dereliction of duty” for leaving big technology companies unregulated.

Addressing the South by Southwest technology conference in Austin, Texas, Khan said he was not listing the messages in order to be portrayed as a victim, or to ask for sympathy.

“But ask yourself this,” he said. “What happens when young boys and girls from minority backgrounds see this kind of thing on their timelines, 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?”

The tweets he cited included:

Others included death threats, with @billwall69 writing: “I say kill the Mayor of London and you will be rid of one Muslim”. And @SpeedwagonPRST wrote: “I’d pay for someone to execute Sadiq Khan.”

Another tweeted:

Khan, the first British politician to make a speech at the conference, also criticised politicians for failing to ensure technological progress benefits all, saying that regulation was clearly out of date.

He criticised governments for “sitting on their hands while the tech revolution has happened around them”.

He continued: “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.”

Related: Tim Berners-Lee: we must regulate tech firms to prevent 'weaponised' web

Reading out the racist, abusive and illegal tweets he has received since becoming mayor, he urged Facebook, Twitter and others to do more to curb hate speech online or face stiff regulation.

He said technology companies must take a greater responsibility for their effect on the world. “No business or industry should ever consider itself above the local rules, or laws set by democratic processes,” he said.

“Social media platforms already have a legal obligation to remove content that breaks local laws. But this is not always happening, or happening quickly enough. With the skills and resources these companies have at their disposal – I believe it’s possible to go further and faster.”

If Facebook, Twitter and other platforms did not embrace a “stronger duty of care” they would face tough new regulation similar to German legislation that levies hefty fines for failure to remove hate speech, fake news and illegal material fast enough, Khan said.

Using the car-hire app Uber as an example, he also pointed to the sharing, or gig, economy, which “risks being used as cover to break up decades of established and hard-fought rights.

“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.”


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