'We need to stand together and say no to hate from toxic online trolls' - Crime commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson

We live in a digital world where a smartphone is a prized possession and many young people are now in affect growing up online - and if anything, the impact of COVID-19 has accelerated that, writes West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson.

Friday, 24th July 2020, 11:45 am

The rise of technology has many benefits - instant access to information, connecting family and friends, gaming, helping people feel part of something, especially during these uncertain and challenging times amidst a global pandemic.

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But it also has pitfalls - some people feel they can hide behind a keyboard or twitter handle, from a perceived position of anonymity, to bully and intimidate people. These toxic actions have very real consequences and can massively affect lives. We see stories in the media all too often of the extremely tragic results these actions can have.

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West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson. Picture: Simon Hulme

Cyber bullying, just like bullying in schools, in the workplace or at home can cause absolute misery as a result. I fully support action and campaigns like the Yorkshire Evening Post is running to help end it.

Tackling cyber crime is one of my key priorities and I have previously invested funding to help create a dedicated Cyber Crime Unit to enhance West Yorkshire Police’s ability to combat this type of activity, along with embedding improved training for all officers and staff. We have also run competitions in schools for young people to help raise awareness and get them involved in these issues early on.

Alongside direct abuse, there are also those that feel they can spread hate online which is also completely unacceptable. Hate crime is any incident, which is perceived to be motivated by prejudice based on the victim’s disability, race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation. Nobody should have to live in the fear, anxiety and consequences of hate crime just because of who you are.

It’s vital that everybody in positions of responsibility such as mine, as the West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, speak up and challenge hateful words and acts, wherever and whoever they come from.

The Yorkshire Evening Post's Call It Out campaign is asking our readers to help play their part in making social media a better place for everyone.

It will come as no surprise that I have first-hand experience of being attacked online and I wouldn’t be human if I said it doesn’t have an impact on me and sometimes those around me. Whilst those in positions such as mine are rightly open to scrutiny on their decisions, it should always be done in a considered and constructive way. There is simply no excuse or entitlement for being abusive and hateful either online or in person and the hurt it can cause.

Through my Safer Communities Fund we have now granted over £370,000 to over 80 projects to tackle Hate Crime. My Youth Advisory group has also made a bespoke video to help encourage young people to report hate crime, and I have met with MPs and different community groups to discuss their concerns.

Jointly with West Yorkshire Police we have regularly run publicity campaigns and engagement activity, including the ‘Hate Hurts’ campaign which looks to raise awareness of the issues and how to report them. I have also funded a number of dedicated community groups and charities who are highlighting awareness of hate crime, supporting victims and preventing incidents from taking place in the first place, such as Stop Hate UK, who created an innovative and groundbreaking free smartphone app for reporting hate crime in West Yorkshire.

A huge amount of effort has also gone into creating a network of hate crime reporting centres to make reporting easier, but the police can’t deal with this problem on their own. That is why I allocate grant funding and work closely with the five Community Safety Partnerships (CSPs) covering West Yorkshire, and in Leeds with ‘Safer Leeds’ partnership. CSPs understand their areas and what interventions may be successful in tackling the problem locally which feeds into my Police & Crime Plan.

Whilst I’ve only touched on some of the work that continues makes a difference, and there’s plenty more ongoing, my message is that we all have a role to play to stop bullying in all its forms.

We all need to work together to address such harmful activity and to ensure everyone has the fundamental right of feeling safe wherever they are. We need to stand together and say no to hate. I would like to thank the Yorkshire Evening Post for launching this campaign and helping to do just that.

Anyone who needs support with the issues I have raised here can contact West Yorkshire Police online or via 101, Victim Support online or by calling 0300 303 1971, or my office online or by calling 01924 294000.

The Yorkshire Evening Post's Call It Out campaign is sharing real life experiences of abusive online behaviour and asking our readers to help play their part in reporting it to account admins, social media platforms and, where needed, the police.

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Leeds has a fantastic story to tell - and the Yorkshire Evening Post has been rooted firmly at the heart of telling the stories of our city since 1890. We believe in ourselves and hope you believe in us too.

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Thank you,

Laura Collins