Twitter representatives likened anti-Semitic tweets to hearing an offensive conversation in the street, a Labour frontbencher has claimed.
Shadow communities minister Lyn Brown said major social networks such as Facebook and Twitter have a responsibility to do much more in tackling abuse. But she told a parliamentary debate that a meeting between MPs and Twitter led to officials from the social media company making a comparison between anti-Semitic tweets and overheard conversations.
Ms Brown said this was a “fallacious argument”, as she joined fellow MPs in pressing for internet companies to do more to enforce their rules on hate and prejudice.
Labour’s John Mann, who is the member for Bassetlaw, reiterated his calls for the equivalent of internet anti-social behaviour orders to target offenders.
Tory Mike Freer suggested high-profile prosecutions were needed – similar to those after the riots in Tottenham in 2011 – to help people feel safe.
Speaking for Labour in the Westminster Hall debate on anti-Semitism, Ms Brown said: “The major social networks, Facebook and Twitter, both have a responsibility to do much more given the platform that these sites provide the users.
“I’m encouraged to hear today that Facebook are now seeing the importance of tackling cyber-bullying and empowering others to report cyber abuse.
“But it is disappointing to hear that when members from this House met with Twitter last month, their representatives likened anti-Semitic tweets to hearing an offensive conversation in the street – meaning that it’s gone as soon as you pass it by.
“(That is) simply not true. On so many levels this is fallacious argument. Clearly social networks need to do more, first to enforce their own existing rules and second to ensure they are equipped to deal with the hate and prejudice in the constantly evolving field of technology and communications.”
Opening the debate, Mr Mann said there had been 302 incidents of anti-Semitism recorded in July, an increase from 59 in July last year., which compared with 304 incidents in the first six months of this year.
The surge in incidents coincided with the Gaza conflict, Mr Mann said.
Addressing internet companies, the Labour backbencher said: “We expect them to step up to the mark and not allow anti-Semitic abuse on their platforms.
“It’s demeaning of their good name that they allow it to happen and Twitter in particular has been extraordinarily hopeless in dealing with abuse through its medium. Well, the brand name of Twitter is dragged into the mire by their continued failure to do so. It’s possible to do. They could assist law enforcement in this country if they got their act together, which they have not done and we in this House should continue to highlight their failures – not just until they come to the table but they act up to the mark and show they’re properly part of civil society.”
Tory backbencher Mr Freer said people in his Finchley and Golders Green constituency, which has a large Jewish population, have started to feel unsafe as they are being shouted at in the streets and are seeing more anti-Semitic graffiti.
He said: “What we need to see is high-profile prosecutions in the same way we saw high-profile prosecutions after the riots in Tottenham.
“The community needs to see, the public needs to see, firm action of the police dealing with anti-Semitism. Then people will start to feel safe.”
Replying for the coalition, communities minister Stephen Williams said: “In the context of social media, Twitter has been mentioned several times as rightly coming in for some strong condemnation from colleagues in the room.
“I don’t think it’s for the Government necessarily to tell Twitter or Facebook or other people what they should be taking down on their sites.
“What I will say is that these remarks have now been made on the record in the House of Commons, will appear in Hansard, and I am happy to join the shadow minister and everyone else who has said that these organisations do have a responsibility to their users to look at the content that is being published via their means of communication.
“They are not responsible for what people say but they are responsible for disseminating what people say and that’s the distinction that I would draw.”