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Treat Internet Haters Like Sex Offenders, Say British MPs

Anti-Social Behavior Orders are already used to restrict sex offenders online in the UK. Now, in a report on anti-Semitism, a group of politicians say they hope to apply similar measures to social media abusers.
February 9, 2015, 6:47pm
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People who spread racial hatred online should be treated like sex offenders: Kicked off social networking sites and banned from using fake identities, advises a group of British MPs, in a new report on rising anti-Semitism in the UK.

"Internet ASBOs" — or Anti-Social Behavior Orders — are already used to restrict the online manoeuvrings of sex offenders in Britain. Now, MPs hope to apply similar measures to internet haters.

The recommendation comes from an All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism, released on Monday, which found that levels of violence and abuse aimed at Jewish people in Britain has doubled since the 1990s.

The document calls for government and police to take "urgent action" to counter a "disturbing rise in anti-Semitism in the UK."

The report further notes that social media has "increasingly been used for the spread of anti-Semitism." During last summer's Israel-Gaza war, the terms "Holocaust" and "Hitler" were reportedly among the top 35 key words used on Twitter.

The "Hitler was Right" hashtag trended across the world in July 2014.

The MPs' findings correspond to a separate report released last week by the Community Security Trust (CST), a UK charity that monitors anti-Semitism. It found that anti-Semitic incidents in Britain had more than doubled over the last year — to 1,168 episodes in 2014. This was the highest count recorded by CST since the organization began its tally in 1984.

A Populus poll that accompanied the report found that 37 percent of Brits believe that anti-Semitism has worsened in the last decade.

Britain Saw Record Number of Anti-Semitic Incidents in 2014, Says Charity. Read More Here.

The new report urges Westminster to cover the cost of security at synagogues. It also calls for new research into the use of anti-Semitic language and offers guidance for teachers on how to teach the Holocaust and the ongoing Middle East conflict in schools.

The cross-party Parliamentary team was set up last August "to review the state of anti-Semitism in the UK, specifically in light of anti-Jewish hatred emanating from the Middle East conflict" — but some of the panel's recommendations are broader reaching in scope, and concern forms of racial and religious hatred beyond anti-Semitism. The panel has called for new "guidance and legal tools for the policing of hate crime."

"There is an allowance in the law for banning or blocking individuals from certain aspects of Internet communication in relation to sexual offences," the report notes. "Informal feedback we have received from policy experts indicates that this is a potential area of exploration for prosecutors in relation to hate crime."

The inquiry team, chaired by Labour MP John Mannrecently met with executives from Twitter and Facebook about measures to clamp down on Internet abuse. The report describes Facebook as a "willing partner" in this endeavour, but expresses "serious concerns" about Twitter and the efficacy of its complaints review process.

Last week, in an internal Twitter memo leaked to the media, Twitter CEO Dick Costelo admitted that his company "sucks at dealing with abuse and trolls."

The new report comes at a sensitive moment for Jewish communities in Britain, landing one month after an armed assailant seized a kosher grocery store in Porte de Vincennes, Paris, killing four hostages.

Today, British newspapers are replete with regular reports on British Jews who reportedly find themselves in peril. Last month, the UK Home Office ordered extra police patrols in Jewish neighbourhoods. Already, a number of Jewish communities are reportedly running terrorism drills for school students and ramping-up security at synagogues.

"We don't know what to expect in the future, whether Jews will be able to live in Europe," an unnamed "Jewish teenager" told the cross-party inquiry.

French Jews Nervous in Wake of Paris Kosher Market Attack, Rising Anti-Semitism. Read More Here.

But recent events have also inspired pleas for calm and concern that events in Paris have kicked off a hysteria within Jewish communities.

Last year's Pew Global Attitudes survey found that 83 percent of Brits have a favourable attitude towards Jews, compared to the 64 percent who feel favourably towards Muslims. Just 7 percent of Brits feel unfavourably towards Jews: far less than the figures for Italy (24 percent) and Greece (47 percent). These numbers make Britain one of the least anti-Semitic countries in the world.

In a statement released Monday, Prime Minister David Cameron called the report "hugely important… While I am prime minister I promise we will fight anti-Semitism with everything we have got."

Sir Bernard Hogan Howe, commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police, acknowledged that "our Jewish communities are feeling especially vulnerable at this time." He said that police had taken steps, in recent weeks, to provide "additional reassurance" to British Jews.

In its conclusion, the report urges the government to better anticipate spikes in anti-Semitism and liaise with foreign embassies "specifically to plan for anti-Semitism during times of increased tension in the Middle East."

Follow Katie Engelhart on Twitter: __@katieengelhart

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