News

Racial abuse directed at Sadiq Khan ‘on the rise’

New study suggests the London mayor is “on track” to receive over 20,000 racist or racialised “abuse mentions” on social media, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

Sadiq Khan (credit Noah Vickers/LDRS)
Sadiq Khan (credit Noah Vickers/LDRS)

Racist or racialised online abuse directed at Sadiq Khan is forecast to be at its highest point in three years, a new study claims.

An analysis produced by City Hall found Khan has already received about 170% more race-related abuse this year than he had by this point in 2022.

It says that over the total course of 2023, Khan is “on track” to receive over 20,000 racist or racialised “abuse mentions” on social media, which would be the most in any year since 2020, when 17,690 such mentions were recorded.

The study also claims that the amount of race-related abuse the mayor has received that mentions the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) or air quality policies has increased “exponentially” in recent months.

In the interest of brevity, racist and racialised abuse in the analysis is simply referred to as “racist abuse”. It claims that at least 317,736 racist messages mentioning Khan have been sent since 2016.

The study’s authors add: “If we were to widen our search criteria to include other types of abuse, then we’d be looking at much larger numbers (closer to a million messages).”

Georgie Laming, director of campaigns at the advocacy group Hope Not Hate, said Khan “is subjected to strikingly high levels of racial abuse, which speaks to the vilification of Muslim figures in public life”.

However, the current level of racist abuse received by Khan’s social media accounts is still shown in the analysis to be far below that recorded during most of Donald Trump’s time as US president.

In 2016 and 2017, the mayor is said to have received more racist abuse from America than he did from the UK. Khan received a record high of 88,262 racist mentions in 2017.

Much of that abuse came after Trump tweeted after the London Bridge terror attack: “At least seven dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!’”

The quote cited by Trump was taken out of context, as the mayor had told Londoners there was no reason to be alarmed about the increased police presence on the streets after the attack.

“Abuse frequently sought to tie Sadiq to terrorist incidents, such as the Manchester Arena and London Bridge attacks,” the study says.

“Other abuse cited Sadiq’s supposed links to Muslim grooming gangs, jihadis, and the Muslim Brotherhood.”

The study’s authors also claim that their findings indicate that “dissatisfaction about Ulez is either radicalising social media users or attracting the far right into online discussions about clean air policies”.

The analysis attempted to trace where racist abuse linked with Ulez is originating from geographically. “Not all mentions online have available location information, but of those that are traceable, 43 per cent originated in London,” it says.

“Interestingly, that means that 57% originated outside the city.”

Laming, of Hope Not Hate, said: “Whilst opposition to Ulez comes from many sources, a small but vocal contingent has adopted a toxic and increasingly extreme anti-Khan angle.

“The involvement of individuals linked to the conspiracy theory-driven protests that emerged during the Covid-19 pandemic and elements of the far right in anti-Ulez campaigning has fuelled the levels of abuse.”

In addition, the study found that the mayor is continuing to receive a relatively high level of abuse from accounts in India. Khan is said to have already received more abuse from India this year than he did throughout the whole of last year.

“With tensions high in India and across South Asia, we expect any major news event with even a tenuous link to either India or Pakistan to trigger rises in abuse towards Sadiq,” it says.

The analysis characterises racist abuse as “explicitly racist or actively racialised; e.g. linking Sadiq to Sharia law, jihad, terrorist attacks, or using keywords like ‘Londonistan’”.

The study’s authors have also included the term ‘Khanage’, which they admit is “not explicitly racist”, but they say “is often used in racist posts”.

They added that because of the difficulty in tracking abuse across every social media platform, “the vast majority of the abuse we’re able to analyse originates from Twitter”.

Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, said: “Self-regulation by social media platforms has failed. Twitter is failing to act on racist abuse that their own terms and conditions prohibit.

“This is why we need the Online Safety Bill to hold failing platforms, and their owners, to account for abuse, hate, threats, and coordinated foreign harassment campaigns.”