Mayor of London Sadiq Khan delivered a remarkable speech at the South by Southwest, or SXSW, conference on Monday — remarkable for bad reasons, not good ones. He said that he wants social media companies to crack down on free speech.
Following his speech, Khan was interviewed by HuffPost editor Lydia Polgreen, who at one point asked how we can be “better citizens in our global democracy” (and people wonder why Trump won!), Khan offered thoughts on Trump and his war on Uber. But the most telling moment came when the mayor stated that “As a former human rights lawyer, I’m a big advocate of free speech. This isn’t about depriving people of free speech, this is about inciting hatred.”
Here Khan, inadvertently, shows his minds eye, because “inciting hatred” means very different things in Britain and the United States. And the inherently subjective nature of that definition explains why it rightly is not restricted in America. We reject self-censorship on debates of public concern. Yet Khan’s demand cannot simply be ignored.
After all, social media companies operate at a global level, offering instant communication between users in London, Lagos, Berlin, Baghdad, and Kansas City. And that’s keenly relevant in the context of this line in Khan’s SXSW speech.
“What we need to see is a stronger duty of care so that social media platforms can live up to their promises to be places that connect, unify and democratize the sharing of information.” Khan continued, “And be places where everyone feels welcomed and values. If this doesn’t happen, then more countries will start to follow or go further than what Germany has done.”