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Javid urges tech firms: Step up on gang content

Home Secretary Sajid Javid called on internet companies to tackle gang-related online content Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Sajid Javid has demanded that social media companies step up efforts to remove online content that fuels knife violence.

The Home Secretary wants technology firms to get a grip on the issue of gang-related material in the same way that they have targeted terrorist propaganda.

He suggested the industry’s response to his call could have a bearing on the Government’s plans regarding legislation in the area.

The cabinet minister said: “My message to these companies is we are going to legislate and how far we go depends on what you decide to do now.

“At the moment we don’t have the legislation for these types of (knife crime-related) content. I have it for terrorist content and child sexual abuse images.”

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He praised tech companies for their work in combating terrorist-related material using methods such as artificial intelligence.

“They are doing an incredible job today and what I want to see is them employing the same emphasis to that (knife crime-related) content too, it can be done,” Mr Javid told BBC Newsbeat.

He also spoke of his concern about his own children’s safety.

“My eldest daughter has started going out more than she used to,” he said.

“But I do worry, and there are some nights that I’ve stayed up into the early hours of the morning waiting for her to get back home.”

His comments come at a time when ministers and police are under intense pressure to get a grip on surging levels of serious violence.

Last week it was disclosed that the number of fatal stabbings in England and Wales had risen to its highest level since records started more than 70 years ago.

Credit: PA Graphics

Official statistics show there were 285 homicides where the method of killing was by a knife or sharp instrument in the year to March 2018.

This was the highest number since the Home Office’s Homicide Index began in 1946.

Concerns have been raised that material posted on the internet fuels feuds that spill out into violence on the streets.

Platforms were warned last year that they must no longer be “passive hosts” in the fight against violent crime.

The Government’s serious violence strategy, published in April, said: “Social media has a substantial role in facilitating gang activity by intensifying, amplifying, and moving it to a space that is perceived by gang members to be impenetrable by the authorities, such as the police.”

Threats of violence, gang recruitment and drug dealing are “glamorised” in the “seemingly secluded” space, according to the document.

It said: “The instant nature of social media also means that plans develop rapidly and disputes can escalate very quickly.

“There is strong evidence that rival gangs are using social media to promote gang culture, taunt each other and incite violence.”

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The strategy paper noted that it is already an offence to incite, assist and encourage violence online.

It called for internet companies to “go further and faster” in tackling illegal content, and raised the prospect of introducing more “preventative measures” within platforms.

Last month Mr Javid unveiled plans for new knife crime prevention orders.

The powers could be used to impose restrictions on social media use for anyone aged 12 or over who police suspect of carrying a blade.

Although they are civil orders, breaches will be a criminal offence that could result in up to two years in prison upon conviction.

While the plans have been backed by police chiefs, critics have claimed they risk unnecessarily criminalising young people.

The Home Office and Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport are also preparing a White Paper on proposed measures to tackle legal and illegal online harms.

A YouTube spokeswoman said: “We have developed policies specifically to help tackle videos related to knife crime in the UK and are continuing to work constructively with experts on this issue.

“We work with the Metropolitan Police, The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, the Home Office, and community groups to understand this issue and ensure we are able to take action on gang-related content that infringe our community guidelines or break the law.

“We have a dedicated process for the police to flag videos directly to our teams because we often need specialist context from law enforcement to identify real-life threats.

“Along with others in the UK, we share the deep concern about this issue and do not want our platform used to incite violence.”