Opportunists are taking advantage of social media anonymity to commit hate crime offences, a police expert and Jewish community official have warned.
Dave Rich, head of policy for the Community Security Trust said the internet gave people the confidence to commit aggression.
He said: “People are more confident to express views they previously wouldn’t have done in public. More confident to behave in a way they wouldn’t have in public previously.
“Social media definitely plays a role in fuelling this confidence, the confidence to be rude and aggressive and abusive to people on the street.”
Figures released earlier this week show a sharp increase in hate crime in the UK over the last year, with Jews being the second most targeted group in England and Wales when it comes to hate crime.
Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl said the “shocking revelations of a 40 per cent rise in religious hate crime must serve as an urgent call to action. All of us – faith leaders, politicians, and the media – should today step up our efforts to stamp out this cancer in our society. The figures reveal that the most commonly targeted groups are Muslims and Jews. The Jewish community will continue to work in solidarity with Muslims and people of all faiths. We cannot let Britain become a place where a Hijab or a Kippah marks someone out as a target.”
Hate crimes and incidents are defined as those perceived to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a personal characteristic.
Detective Sergeant Tony Forsyth, a hate crime lead at the Metropolitan Police, said national and international news stories provide impetus for people to commit hate crime online, especially young people.
He told a briefing on Wednesday: “We know when there are terror attacks or things that happen internationally, they have a direct effect on members of the public who would not be a victim of a hate crime had a certain incident not taken place.
“There are opportunists who see this as a chance to cause problems.”
There were 94,098 recorded hate crime incidents recorded by police in 2017/18, a 17% increase on the previous year. Of these, 1,065 were online incidents.
Det Sgt Forsyth continued: “A lot of the stuff we deal with online, when we turn up, you knock on the door and would expect to be dealing with a very stereotypical thuggish person.
“Quite often you’re dealing with a young school child, who has sat behind his parents’ keyboard and written the most horrific of stuff.”