Two weeks ago the CPS published a new policy on hate crime and, within it, their pledge to take crimes committed online as seriously as offline offences.
There has been a stark rise in hate-crime since Brexit and it seems that those involved, including those who later went on to carry out the recent terror attacks, have been openly posting on social media days, weeks or months before the incident in real life. It doesn't take a huge leap to understand why there is now a huge push to monitor and prosecute those who are actively attacking people of a certain race or religion on the internet.
Following the CPS release, there have been numerous opinion articles reacting to the news with "it's about time" and "crime is crime [regardless of medium]", whilst in forums online arguments erupt over free speech and forms of whistle-blowing. The internet has always been seen as a place without borders, consequence and reality. Yet this marks a change in attitude; an active policing of social media. Social media itself is limitless, and it is unclear how the CPS intends to bridge the gap between their very limited reality and the world of hate-crime that can travel the globe in less than a second.
We have already seen developments like this in other areas; Revenge Porn, for instance. However, it relies very heavily on Facebook and Twitter (et al) complying with their own policies, constantly screening and understanding the concept of "free speech". When they remove posts that could be considered hate crimes in themselves or those which incite hate crime, they want to be sure that they are not violating some other intrinsic right.
The use of social media in extremism, radicalisation and hate crime is well documented. Young people are often the targets for these movements and those who retreat online are most at risk. Last week, for example, the Daily Stormer, an infamous far-right neo-nazi forum was removed from the internet following lobbying by an American lawyers' civil rights group. This group was labelled the "murder capital of the internet" and had a following of so called Stormfront youths (SPL Center). The following day, the Guardian reported that it had moved onto the "Dark Web", a host of sites only accessible through a host which prevents it registering on the usual search engines. It seems much more likely that a young person would work out how to locate it than those targeting hate crime.
What then, is the opinion of the young people whom this change affects most of all? So far we are yet to see this covered by the national papers, although they probably wouldn't have to delve deep online to find some sort of opinion. To really target the rise in hate crime, online and offline, we need to be starting at the roots. Why are people, especially young people, getting sucked in or actively seeking these communities that can encourage them to commit hate crimes? Why is it that they then feel able to make that leap from online to reality?
Brexit has fostered this toxic attitude and we need to find a way to reverse it, rather than allow more of our young people to disappear into the criminal justice system.