By Josh Halliday
‘Gang recruitment’ videos: MPs back call for police to have blocking power
MP Heidi Alexander launches bill to curb social media videos that incite violence – but government is unlikely to back it
MPs have backed a call for police to be given extra powers to block or take down YouTube videos that could incite violence.
Speaking in the Commons on Tuesday, the Labour MP Heidi Alexander brought forward a private bill which calls for explicit powers to be given to police and internet providers, such as BT and Virgin Media, to remove online videos that act as a “recruitment mechanism for gangs”.
Alexander has led the charge against social media since the riots across England in August. She told MPs that government policy on tackling criminal gangs was shortsighted and out of touch because it barely touched on the internet.
MPs voted in favour of allowing Alexander to bring forward her bill, which will receive a second reading in March. However, the proposals are unlikely to become law without government support.
The government climbed down on its proposal for gang members to be blocked from social networks following home office meetings with Facebook, Twitter and the BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion in the summer.
The home secretary said on Monday that the US internet firms had looked at their terms and conditions and “when they might be taking people off the network because they might be breaching those terms and conditions”.
Alexander told MPs on Tuesday: “I am introducing this bill because I am appalled by the proliferation of online videos which glorify gangs and serious youth violence.
“Police, via the courts and internet service providers, need to be given explicit power to get these videos taken down or access to them blocked.”
Similar powers already exist to take down or block access to websites that could incite racial hatred or feature extremist material. British police authorities requested the removal of three videos from Google-owned YouTube in the first half of this year over violence, according to Google’s transparency report, released in October. Google said it fully or partially complied with 82% of the total requests from the UK government, police or courts, which included takedown requests for 135 videos over national security issues.
“I recognise the policing of the internet is always going to be incredibly difficult but unless we start to grapple with the online manifestation of gangs, I question our ability to really tackle the problem,” Alexander said.
“We can talk about gang injunctions all we like, and yes, there may be a need to stop a certain individual or group coming into a certain area at a certain time, but don’t we too need to recognise that the same individual may be causing an equal amount of fear by his or her actions sat on a computer at home, or spreading these vile videos through social networking sites?”