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The changing advice on tackling hate speech in a world of online anonymity

The old mantra of ‘calling out’ racism and other forms of discrimination is said to be backfiring on social media.

The Trolls Under The Bridge installation (Lewis Whyld/PA)
The Trolls Under The Bridge installation (Lewis Whyld/PA)

By Patrick Daly, PA Political Correspondent

How often do we hear public figures talking about the need to “call out” racism?

It seems a simple remedy – those airing abhorrent views being shamed and forced to leave the public arena with their tail between their legs.

But in a world of online anonymity, does the same message apply? New charity Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) thinks not and is advising social media users to do the opposite of what has been the norm for so long when it comes to racism and other forms of hate crime.

Rather than highlighting the views, the charity’s advice is instead to mute and report online trolls to starve them of the oxygen they need to prosper.

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MP David Lammy has been targeted on social media by online trolls (Yui Mok/PA)

With such trolls – some who have hidden far-right or even far-left agendas – looking to build a following, cutting out the public shaming could nip their activity in the bud before they can grow into a destabilising force.

Researchers studied the analytics behind a tweet received by anti-Brexit MP David Lammy that labelled him an “oaf” with “Guyanan DNA”, while also claiming he was not “indigenous English”.

The Tottenham MP responded by sharing the tweet alongside a list of his English credentials, including “avoiding eye contact on the tube”, “drinking tea like it’s going to run out” and having been “born in Archway”.

It was a witty riposte that surely raised plenty of laughs and garnered plenty of likes and retweets of its own.

But an unforeseen side-effect was that it gave the original tweeter – named The Resolute Brexiteer, with the Twitter handle @HomeRuleNow – hundreds of extra followers, increasing the size of their audience by 14%.

Jonathan Sebire, from social media analytics company Signify, said research showed the @HomeRuleNow account was “reborn” in March and “immediately started attacking prominent users”, including news presenter Jon Snow from Channel 4, who has 1.4 million followers on Twitter.

Mr Sebire said: “This is a clear and deliberate tactic, perhaps best illustrated by an attack on David Lammy on May 30.

“At the time of the attack the account had just under 3,500 followers. After Lammy engaged with the account on May 31, @HomeRuleNow received a 14% follower boost, roughly equivalent to 10% of the audience that retweeted Lammy’s tweet.

“We can also see HomeRuleNow bragging about this one day later. The growth in his followers did not stop and even after his self-congratulatory tweet his followers kept rising. Our analysis shows that the vast majority of which were accounts sympathetic to @HomeRuleNow.”

The @HomeRuleNow account has since been suspended.

Mr Lammy has been contacted for comment.

PA

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