A BOROUGH-WIDE campaign which aims to stamp out online abuse was launched this week in the hope that it can make social media a more friendly place - and to help curb ‘vile’ comments made about councillors.
The No Place For Hate campaign was formally approved at last week’s cabinet meeting after a six-month planning process.
It hopes highlight online abuse and hate comments in the attempt to eradicate hate speech from social media platforms.
The idea was championed following a series of reports made by Barnsley Council employees who revealed the abuse they had received online.
Most notably is former mayor, Coun Pauline Markham, when she was physically assaulted and had her car’s tyres slashed following her work campaigning against off-road bikers.
Shokat Lal, the council’s leading officer on the project, said he hopes the project will make social media much safer for everyone.
“The thing about online abuse is that the person directing the comments would never say it to the other person’s face,” he said. “In a sense they feel protected behind their computer screen and then feel like they can go on to say vile and horrible things to people who are just trying to do their job.
“Within the council, just like any job, there are proper procedures to go through if you take issue with something that was said or done and I think that the rise of social media has really blurred the lines between what is an acceptable comment and hate speech.
“Since trialling the No Place For Hate campaign across the council’s social media sites, we have noted around 160 instances of abuse that have since been dealt with - either the person has removed their comment, or apologised for their actions.
“Going forward we want to see more businesses across the borough take up this mantle to let people know that there is a person at the other end of their comment.”
The campaign has been joined by eight other businesses and organisations across the borough including Barnsley College, South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue, Barnsley LGBT+ Forum and South Yorkshire Police who will all work to eliminate online abuse across their social media platforms.
Hoyland Milton’s Coun Robin Franklin said he hopes the campaign will be taken to Westminster to help tackle online abuse on a wider scale.
“Over the past two years we as council employees have been attacked on social media and unable to fight back but this campaign should help us to be able to get rid of quite nasty comments.
“We understand not everyone might agree with what we are doing or how we go about things, but I think there’s a difference between complaining about a policy or decision and targeting a person directly.
“It’s not just us as councillors that suffer - it’s our families too. I know my colleagues’ children have logged onto Facebook and read some of the horrible things said about their parents and it’s not something that should happen, let alone that they have to read.
“I am really hoping that a lot of Barnsley businesses get behind this and help to make a difference.
“We want to take this to Westminster because we feel that it’s not just a Barnsley issue - you only have to look at what happened with the three footballers after the Euros to understand that online abuse is everywhere and we want to play our part in putting an end to it.”
The campaign was backed by council leader, Sir Steve Houghton, who praised the initiative in last week’s cabinet meeting.
“I 110 per cent support this campaign,” he said. “There is no place for hate in Barnsley and it’s not acceptable in any form.
“The vast majority of residents are great but it’s the small minority that needs to be aware that their actions have consequences.
“If we can’t provide a safe space for our staff online then we have failed.
“Hopefully this campaign will also give people the power to ‘call-out’ abusive behaviour when they see it, to let others know that that sort of language won’t be tolerated.”