Sen. Bob Casey introduces bill to examine social media’s potential role in rising hate crimes | Pittsburgh City Paper

Sen. Bob Casey introduces bill to examine social media’s potential role in rising hate crimes

click to enlarge Sen. Bob Casey introduces bill to examine social media’s potential role in rising hate crimes
CP photo: Ryan Deto
Bob Casey
The number of hate crimes in the U.S. increased annually from 2015 to 2017, according to the latest federal data available.

And now a new bicameral bill has been introduced to assess the impact social media has potentially had on the rise in hate crimes.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Scranton)and U.S. Rep. José E. Serrano (D-New York introduced the proposed legislation called the Stop HATE (Harmful and Abusive Telecommunications Expression) Act. The bill intends to address the role of social media and other forms of electronic communication in spreading hate speech and encouraging violent crimes against minority groups.

“The rapid development of media platforms and technology has outpaced our understanding of how they can be used to disseminate hate,” said Casey in a press release. “We need to examine how these platforms and technologies have been used to facilitate the commission of hate crimes so we can take appropriate steps to prevent another tragedy.”

Many perpetrators of high-profile hate crimes in recent years have posted online, sharing their hateful ideologies and frequenting platforms that are friendly to extremists.

Robert Bowers, accused of murdering 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, had been active on Gab, a social network similar to Twitter that's popular among white supremacists and Neo-Nazis. The shooter in the mass murder in New Zealand posted a manifesto outlining his hateful beliefs on 8chan, a platform also popular among the far-right, prior to his fatal rampage at two mosques in early March. He also live-streamed the attack on Facebook; the footage spread rapidly across different platforms and circulated for hours.

The last time a federal report was completed on the link between social media and hate speech was in 1993. The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released The Role of Telecommunications in Hate Crimes, which examined how the telecommunications of that era related to hate crimes and recommended ways to combat these growing threats. NTIA’s research suggested that hate messages represented a small percentage of electronic communications media and that the best response was public education rather than government censorship and regulation.

The Stop HATE Act would direct the Departments of Commerce and Justice to provide a new version of the 1993 report, taking a look at the new forms of electronic communications that have since developed and offer new recommendations. The act would also require NTIA to periodically report to Congress with assessments of new forms of media that emerge.
Regulating social media as a means of preventing the spread of hateful ideologies has become more widely discussed in recent months.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote an op-ed for the The Washington Post on Saturday, calling for governments and regulators to create “new rules” for social media sites. His ideas include creating third-party bodies responsible for setting standards governing the distribution of harmful content and holding internet companies accountable for enforcing those standards. Zuckerberg has faced criticism for failing to implement Facebook’s own standards policy for content on the social media platform.

“I believe we need a more active role for governments and regulators. By updating the rules for the Internet, we can preserve what’s best about it — the freedom for people to express themselves and for entrepreneurs to build new things — while also protecting society from broader harms,” Zuckerberg wrote in the op-ed.

Casey and Serrano’s bill has nine House co-sponsors and seven Senate co-sponsors, including Sens. Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, all of whom are running for president. The bill is supported by the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Free Press Action Fund, the Anti-Defamation League, and Color of Change.