Chinese and East Asian Communities: Racism during Covid-19

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:59 pm on 13th October 2020.

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Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Home Office) 4:59 pm, 13th October 2020

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point on an issue that I will come to later in my speech. Training is absolutely essential so that people recognise and treat seriously any forms of racism, so that it is dealt with swiftly and so that people are not frightened to report it.

It is deeply disappointing to hear the President of the United States, Donald Trump, call coronavirus the China virus and give legitimacy to this racist trope. It is also deeply regrettable that nothing has been done to challenge this view by our Government. Nobody has spoken out against it, and that desperately needs to happen. I hope that the Minister will deal with that in her remarks.

The Government have a moral duty to keep our communities safe, and that includes speaking out against hate speech and dispelling falsehoods no matter where they come from. The explosion of hate speech on social media has been alarming. I know that the most mainstream platforms are taking steps to remove false information and hateful content. My hon. Friend Rachel Hopkins mentioned the 200,000 hashtags of hate speech and conspiracy theories against the Chinese and East Asian communities, which was quite alarming. Recently, the Select Committee on Home Affairs had a session in which it heard that Facebook had deleted 9.6 million hate speech posts in the first quarter of 2020; 9.6 million is an alarming number, and that is just the ones that it has removed.

The issue is not just content removal. That is not enough on its own. More needs to be done to dismantle the microtargeting of ads and the algorithms that recommend the next piece of visible content, which may be just as harmful. This rabbit hole is compounding the effects of online hate speech and fake news. The ads and algorithms make decisions for users about what they can see online, and essentially that amplifies the content, so that is an issue that also needs to be addressed.

We need wider regulation of social media platforms to tackle hate speech and its wider distribution. Although I appreciate that the online harms Bill will come before Parliament next year, action is needed now. I highly recommend the Institute for Strategic Dialogue’s impressive report, “The First 100 Days: Coronavirus and Crisis Management on Social Media Platforms”. That goes into detail as to how hate crime and hate speech are spread on social media platforms.

I mentioned earlier in my speech that online hate speech has evolved into physical hate crime, and we heard a number of examples from hon. Members in today’s debate. Figures from police forces across England and Wales have revealed that at least 267 offences against, I quote, “Chinese people” were recorded between January and March during the covid-19 crisis. That included assaults, robberies, harassment and criminal damage. The rate is nearly three times that of the previous two years. I believe that those figures are just the tip of the iceberg. In conversations that I have had with representatives from the Chinese community in London, I have been told that attacks are far more common. They are under-reported, because the community do not believe that the police take their complaints seriously. To allude to the point made by my hon. Friend Catherine West, the issue is about training as well.

The lack of vocal Government support and the severe cuts to policing over the last decade have left the community despondent. They feel that they have no empathy or understanding of the effect that such attacks have. I am pleased to see that the community are getting organised on this issue and demanding action. One group that they have formed is End the Virus of Racism. I congratulate it on calling for zero tolerance for racism and for the full protection of the law following the threefold increase in hate crime towards people of South-East Asian and Chinese heritage during the coronavirus crisis. The police must take hate crime seriously and listen to victims; otherwise, it will continue to be under-reported.