All hail Sadiq Khan’s new Ministry of Truth

London mayor Sadiq Khan has launched an ‘Online Hate Crime Hub’, run by members of the Metropolitan Police. Five of London’s finest will run City Hall’s own version of the Ministry of Truth, working to ‘identify, prevent and investigate online abuse’, to the tune of £1.7million.

The unit will investigate all online hate crimes reported to police in the capital, including abuse posted on Twitter and Facebook. The hub also intends to provide referrals to victim-support groups, and work with police in relevant boroughs to investigate alleged hate crimes. City Hall said discussions were also under way with social-media companies, ‘to develop appropriate online sanctions for perpetrators of online hate’.

This is a deeply sinister and censorious move. But what’s most worrying is that for something to be labelled a ‘hate crime’, it only has to be labelled as such by the alleged victim. You might have been offensive or rude to someone in the course of an argument, but if they decide that you were motivated by the fact they are female, trans, gay, Muslim, Cornish or some mix of all of those things, it’s possible that you will be investigated for a hate crime – and potentially get a criminal record.

Victoria Wright, a disability-and-disfigurement-rights campaigner in London, who has been subject to online abuse, called the hub ‘a much needed initiative that will make a real difference’. She added, ‘it’s vital that those of us who are victims of online hate crime receive a robust response from the police’.

Many people will have had nasty stuff said to them online, and sometimes this can be really upsetting. But because of the ever-expanding nature of the definition of a hate crime, even vexatious complaints or Twitter spats can be construed as criminal. It’s just not true that we’re a nation, let a lone a capital, of hateful abusers. As we saw in the wake of Brexit, levels of hate crime are often exaggerated for political ends.

This project from Khan is just the latest move in censor-happy politicians’ assault on freedom. Most of what is called online hate crime can easily be dealt with by an individual blocking the perpetrator from their account. And besides, pumping time and funds into internet police is a complete waste of resources on the part of the Met, City Hall and the Home Office. Of the many policing concerns Londoners may have, people being rude on Facebook and Twitter is surely bottom of the list. Londoners should tell Khan, and his snooper coppers and all the other politicians claiming that Something Must Be Done about online hate, to butt out of our internet activity and respect freedom of speech.

Guy Birchall is a writer based in London.

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