In the past twelve months racist attacks in Northern Ireland have increased by 50%.
In the early hours of Sunday morning yet another home was attacked in South Belfast – an attack that the PSNI described as a ‘hate crime’.
A bottle was thrown and smashed the living room window of a house owned by a Bangladeshi family on Ulsterville Avenue and a car owned by a Kuwaiti family was set alight.
The attacks have been widely condemned by politicians from across the political spectrum.
In the early hours of this morning yet another property was attacked in North Belfast.
Where do the attitudes that provoke these hate crimes originate and why are racist attitudes seemingly on the increase?
A few hours before the latest attack a Facebook user in South Belfast posted this video:
The video has been viewed more than 10,000 times and numerous comments have been posted in support of the man responsible.
The Facebook user subsequently attempted to defend his actions seemingly oblivious to the fact that – regardless of the circumstances – verbally and racially abusing a fellow human being in broad daylight would be regarded by most as unacceptable.
The true nature of his motivations are perhaps best summed up by one of his own comments on the original video thread.
On Saturday 4th October Shankill Leisure Centre permitted the use of a hall to celebrate Eid al-Adha, one of the most important festivals in the Islamic calendar.
The loyalist Facebook page Protestant Unionist Loyalist News TV picked up on the news with predictable results:
A torrent of racist commentary followed the original post – all unchallenged by the administrators of the page.
An even more sinister Facebook page has seen significant growth in recent days.
The subtly named N.I. Resistance Against Islam so far has 735 followers and users have posted a selection of choice comments.
Stung by criticism the page administrators have banned anyone who dares to challenge their racist mindset and have set up a secret group where the select few who share their warped views can interact in private (the administrators of the page are visible on some browsers – the ‘secret’ page is not now searchable on Facebook)
In all cases the posts and pages responsible have been reported to Facebook and complainants have received the stock response that such activity does not contravene “community standards.”
“Facebook does not permit hate speech, but distinguishes between serious and humorous speech. While we encourage you to challenge ideas, institutions, events, and practices, we do not permit individuals or groups to attack others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition”.
However Facebook adds the caveat that “because of the diversity of our community, it’s possible that something could be disagreeable or disturbing to you without meeting the criteria for being removed or blocked”.
So in effect Facebook and not civil society is the final arbiter of what is or is not ‘hate speech’.
In a society that is already riddled with sectarianism and where there is clear evidence that Facebook has been used to stir up sectarian tension in the past, is it not incumbent on the organisation to act swiftly and remove posts that would be viewed as ‘hate speech’ in every day society?
There are those that would argue that such action would be a form of censorship and an attack on free speech but surely social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter have a social responsibility to prevent the spread of dangerous views that can lead to attacks such as this in August 2014?
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