As Hate Crimes Surge, Cantwell Pushes Facebook, Google, Twitter on Actions to Counter Rise in Extremism
Between 2013 and 2017, Washington state saw 78 percent rise in hate crimes; state has third-highest rate of hate crimes per capita in the United States
WASHINGTON, DC – As the United States continues to experience a surge in hate crimes and extremism throughout the country, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, pushed representatives from Facebook, Google, and Twitter on what their companies are doing to address hate on their platforms.
“Across the country, we are seeing and experiencing a surge of hate, and as a result, we need to think much harder about the tools and resources we need to combat this problem, both online and offline,” Senator Cantwell said. “I do want us to think about ways in which we can all work together to address these issues. I feel that working together, there are successful tools that we can deploy in trying to fight extremism that exists online.”
In addition to what more social media platforms can do to counter extremism and hate on their platforms, Cantwell also asked witnesses about incitement happening on the “dark web” and through websites that publish hate, like 8chan.
“What do you think we need to do to monitor incitement on dark web sites?” Cantwell asked George Selim, Senior Vice President of Programs at the Anti-Defamation League.
“A number of measures,” Mr. Selim replied. “The first is having our public policy be starting from a place where we’re victim-focused… We really need to start from a place that prevents and has a better accounting of hate crimes, bias-motivated crimes, hate-related incidents, etcetera. And when we start from that place, I think we can make better policy and better programs at the federal government and state and local and also in the private industry levels as well.”
In response, Cantwell announced that she will be calling on the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to bolster its efforts against extremism, hatred, and violence on the internet and called on the companies testifying before the committee to join in these efforts, as well as to prevent people supporting hate and terror from moving from social media platforms to the dark web.
“I’m definitely going to be calling on the Department of Justice to ask what more we can do in this coordination,” Cantwell said. “Several years ago, Microsoft worked with [law enforcement] and others on trying to address, on an international basis, child pornography to better skill law enforcement at policing crime scenes online. And I would assume that the representatives today would be supportive, maybe helpful – maybe even financially helpful – in trying to address these crimes as they exist today as hate crimes on the dark side of the web.”
Hate crimes and extremism have been on the rise throughout the country, but the increase in Washington state has been particularly stark. Between 2013 and 2017, Washington state saw an increase in hate crimes of 78 percent. In 2017 alone, 510 hate crimes were reported – a 32 percent increase. The national average increased 17 percent in the same year. On a per capita basis, Washington state has the third-highest rate of hate crimes in the country.
Among cities, Seattle had one of the sharpest reported increases. According to a recent City Auditor study, reports of hate crimes in Seattle have increased by nearly 400 percent since 2012, from 106 cases in 2012 to 521 cases in 2018. Because hate crimes are often underreported to law enforcement agencies, the actual number of instances is likely much higher.
As Congress continues to consider responses to rising hatred and violence, Senator Cantwell joined a group of her colleagues on the Senate floor yesterday to call for a vote on expanded background checks legislation. At today’s hearing, Cantwell also commended a group of 145 companies for sending a letter last week expressing support for gun safety legislation.
“I do appreciate, just last week representatives from various companies of all sizes in the tech industry sending the Senate a letter, asking for passage of bills requiring extensive background checks,” Senator Cantwell said. “So very much appreciate that and your support of laws to keep guns out of the hands of people who a court has determined are dangerous.”
Senator Cantwell has taken a leadership role in the Senate in countering hate and hate crimes. In April 2017, she led a group of colleagues in sending a letter to President Trump calling for the establishment of a Presidential Task Force to address the alarming rise of hate crimes across many communities in the United States. She continued that push after white supremacist violence in Charlottesville later that year. That letter led the DOJ to form a Hate Crimes Subcommittee as part of the Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety to combat hate crimes, which was later transformed into a freestanding, Department-wide Hate Crimes Enforcement and Prevention Initiative, led by the Civil Rights Division.
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