Venomous words from a racist minority are reverberating loudly on Facebook

Laura Collins

Laura Collins, editor of the Yorkshire Evening Post, on what her team is doing to combat discrimination in Leeds — and the challenges faced when trying to do the same on Facebook too

Leeds is one of the fastest growing cities in the country — and also one of the most diverse outside London.

Our city is home to more than 170 different ethnic groups with more than 104 languages spoken. It also takes great pride in being named a City of Sanctuary.

And rooted at the heart of this is the endeavour to make Leeds a safe haven for anyone who needs its protection.

Discrimination has been thrust into the spotlight in recent weeks as the city of Leeds, the country and the global population have called for a united front to tackle inequality to ensure everyone is treated the same and offered the same opportunities no matter what the colour of their skin.

As a trusted and respected publisher, the Yorkshire Evening Post is proud to take a stand against racism and discrimination.

And over the last few weeks we have been determined as a title to use our platform and position in the city to call out the scourge of discrimination for what it is.

Thursday’s front page featured the story of a Leeds mum who faced abuse after she simply displayed a Black Lives Matters poster in her window. But the incredible response from her local community who rallied around her encapsulates that show of solidarity that is needed right now.

Last week our front page was dedicated to a Leeds primary school pupils’ poems inspired by Martin Luther King.

A poignant line read: “I have a dream that the nation will be friendly and free, racism will stop and people will be judged for their personality and not their skin colour.”

The innocent voice of a child speaks loudly — it demonstrates maturity beyond their years.

Our team covered the Black Lives Matter protest, and will continue to do so, and at the start of the week we reported on the mindless vandalism of the Queen Victoria statue in Hyde Park.

And the YEP spoke to the first black Lord Mayor of Leeds, who organised the 8for8 initiative on Tuesday, and campaigner Arthur France, founder of the Leeds West Indian Carnival, who said that education really is at the heart of the matter to drive change.

And it is our intention to continue to confront the issue of discrimination head on and give it the prominence it deserves on our website and column inches in print.

But we have been appalled to see some of the disgusting racist comments to our coverage on social media platforms — they are from a minority but their venomous words reverberate loudly.

Yet again this very title and its reporting team continues to come under attack from trolls on social media channels who are using this as an opportunity to spew racist bile rather than engage meaningfully in the debate to be part of the solution.

And, as the tweets and Facebook posts continue to be shared and reposted, the venom is simply spreading. The worrying power of social media and its reach simply exacerbates this further.

Our journalists have been forced to delete, hide and rigorously monitor these comments as we continue to shine a spotlight on the movement and facilitate debate over what should be done to tackle the issue of racism in modern day Leeds.

Yet platforms, like Facebook, must also play their part in supporting publishers to deal with the onslaught of offensive comments. We cannot do this on our own. The level of abuse –by a vocal minority — would not be tolerated and accepted on our city’s streets.

So why should this be any different in the vacuum that is social media?

We don’t want to shy away from this — we take our responsibility as a trusted local news publisher seriously.

We believe in free speech and we should have the right to protect that. Free speech is the cornerstone of any democracy. Freedom of speech, when used in the right way, can be so powerful that it implements change. Free speech also drives meaningful debate and enables communities to tackle challenges head on.

However, with free speech comes responsibility and as such should not be used as an excuse to incite hatred.

We certainly would not want to see free speech stifled and we’re not calling for a blanket ban on commenting on stories.

But when freedom of speech is used to freely spew hatred then we know we have a real problem — and the vitriol on social media has to end.

Our city is facing two very different challenges: one is Covid-19 and the other is discrimination.

Both of these are destroying lives.

But, in order for Leeds to beat this, we have to be united without using social media to spread the venom further.

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The stories behind the stories, from the regional press in the UK

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