The Bernie Simons Essay Competition – Winning Entries

If you ran a social media company, do you think you should be responsible for what is posted on your platform? If not, who do you think should be accountable?

By Tahmina Sayfi

Are landlords responsible for their tenants’ behaviour? “yo​u’re not technically liable for nuisance tenants… However… may be liable if you’ve allowed the tenants to cause the nuisance. [1] By this logic, “landlords” of social media have a moral obligation to facilitate positive and meaningful social interaction, though, should not be responsible for “nuisance” caused by such “tenants” which greatly outnumber the regulation capability of companies.

Why then, in cases involving social media is its role blown out of proportion, overestimated and rarely acted upon? The Myanmar Genocide, suicides of Molly Russell and Elena Mondal are just a few examples of social-media scapegoating thanks to “nuisance” of faceless trolls, upon which I will elaborate.

Using these cases I hope to humanise social media companies’ struggle to strike a balance between articles 10 and 14 of the human rights act 1998 – freedom of expression and protection from discrimination in respect of these rights and freedoms [2]. I also aim to emphasise why although companies should be responsible for what is posted on their platforms to an extent, it should be the greater role of the individual to be socially aware, just as they would need to in public, and ways this can be achieved beyond censorship or outsider pressure, such as execution of existing legislation.

Responsibility For Content Does Not Necessarily Equate To Censorship

Generally, social media companies use straightforward systems whereby guidelines are set in line with the company’s ethical code, allowing users to report unpleasant content with a range of reasons as to why – a moderate and sufficient measure for filtering unpleasant content from the positive media. Channel 4’s Head of Current Affairs stated that “harmful” material is a concept broadly understood by social media users [3]. However with the intentions of true accountability, content suppression can take a sinister and almost Communist-style turn such as the recent removal by of one of Bella Hadid’s stories on Instagram expressing pride towards her father’s Palestinian identity [4], which only came to light and received Instagram’s public apology as she incidentally has 31.6 million instagram followers. A clearer industry-wide definition of “harm” (in the context of reporting content) was called for in a letter from the Internet Association to the government [3], which would better guide social media companies to filter content more arbitrarily and lessen incidences of wrongful removal of content.

Fake News, Its Role In Crises Such As The Myanmar Genocide And Prevention Methods

One way in which social media companies must take accountability for their users’ actions is with the influx of fake news surfacing on social media – an only growing phenomenon since Ofcom revealed in 2019 that 49% of adults receive news on social media platforms, a 5% increase on the year before. [5] Alarming statistics like this emphasise the importance of vetting data before allowing it to be shared to avoid spreading false messages.

n one hand user freedom has been key to campaigns such as #Blacklivesmatter and shed light on atrocities in Uyghur Concentration Camps in China. However, social media outlets such as Facebook, have allowed fake news to surface at the expense of lives in the Myanmar Genocide, being its primary facilitator [6]. Moreover, the false claims have also lead to defamation of many Muslims long-term as investigations have revealed that news-followers psychologically remember bad news more. [7]

For this reason, whilst it is somewhat effective to exercise responsibility for the content users post by removing fake or misleading content, a more forthright “prevention as opposed to cure” approach would surmount, using existing legislation like the Fraud Act 2006 [8] to tighten regulation of use of fake personal details, ensuring social media accounts are linked in some way to the identity of a person, holding them to a greater standard when they post and lessening regrettable actions such as fake news creation or distribution, fraud that users are more inclined to carry out under the cloak of anonymity.

Social Media and Suicide, Echo Chambers and Algorithmic Amplification

Social media has caused both famous and regular people to end their lives. Following Molly Russell’s tragic death was a call for accountability to tech giants to remove content from their platforms glorifying mental illness and self-harm. Her father describes her periods of depression as her having entered a “dark rabbit hole of suicidal content” online. [9]

Deeply aware of the upset and grief caused for his family, there are more facets as to why Molly Russell may have been exposed to so much suicidal content relating to social media’s generalised feedback loops and algorithms. Platforms deliver content based on what viewers click most often, intending to cater to their interests. This leads to formation of echo-chambers [10] or algorithmic amplification [11], with the same underlying principle being that the content someone sees becomes limited and increasingly radical.

This theory is backed up by Dr Wainhouse, psychiatrist of Elena Mondal’s statement ,​ “I feel that some of her self-harm was driven by friendship groups and social connectiveness.​” [12] I​n Russell’s case where she was viewing self-harm, the content may have become more radical, thus, taking a greater toll on her. As opposed to removing content incessantly from social platforms, a measure which often traumatizes those employed to do so [13], altering the algorithm to create a more varied and representative user experience without removing people’s genuine freedom of expression even if we cannot empathise with it would be far more effective.

Overall, although social media companies, like landlords, are not directly liable for the actions of users, they have an ethical and social duty to maintain transparency with and safeguard the communities they serve. However, this duty is best-fulfilled candidly by putting controversial media into context and lessening algorithmic amplification as opposed to directly censoring and removing content shared by users, which would in turn suppress their freedom of expression. Instead, the approach of empowerment and accountability using current legislation over tighter regulations would make social media platforms safer for the everyday user.

Bibliography:

[1] h​ttps://www.insight-law.co.uk/blog/are-landlords-responsible-for-tenant-behaviour

[2]​ https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/human-rights/human-rights-act

[3] h​ttps://smab.co.uk/big-tech-reform-must-be-workable/

[4] h​ttps://metro.co.uk/2020/07/09/bella-hadid-receives-apology-instagram-post-dad-passport-removed-12970362/

[5] h​ttps://www.ofcom.org.uk/about-ofcom/latest/features-and-news/half-of-people-get-news-from-social-media

[6] h​ttps://www.forbes.com/sites/kalevleetaru/2018/11/23/should-social-media-be-held-responsible-for-the-atrocities-and-deaths-it-facilitates/#49ded78e38ec

[7]​ https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20140728-why-is-all-the-news-bad

[8]​ http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2006/35/pdfs/ukpga_20060035_en.pdf

[9] ​https://www.eveningexpress.co.uk/news/molly-russell-entered-dark-rabbit-hole-of-suicidal-content-online-says-father-2/

[10] ​https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-47447633

[11]​ https://theconversation.com/feedback-loops-and-echo-chambers-how-algorithms-amplify-viewpoints-107935

[12]​ https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/feb/13/elena-mondal-hanged-self-harming-school-inquest

[13]​ https://www.theverge.com/2020/5/12/21255870/facebook-content-moderator-settlement-scola-ptsd-mental-health

 

If you ran a social media company, do you think you should be responsible for what is posted on your platform? If not, who do you think should be accountable?

By Mya Basiime

Trending. Social media’s ubiquity has culminated in Facebook, Instagram and Twitter gaining an incomprehensible capacity to shift public opinion and instigate social activism. Through social media, activists have received the attention that they rightfully deserve, promoting ground-breaking changes through #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter and spurring masses into action. However, this superpower – an unparalleled ability to reach a wide range of people – is also highly detrimental. According to recent statistics, 500 million tweets are sent daily, enabling misinformation to spread vociferously with real-life consequences. Terrorist attacks have been linked to platforms such as 4chan, 8chan and Gab. The ascension of social media has facilitated the rise of hate speech and conspiracy theories. Information pollution compromises social media users, hounding them with information of varying truth. Equally, social media is not a bubble, it co-exists with the wider world. Anonymity gives users the space to make defamatory and hateful comments. As a result, social media companies require some levels of accountability for the information being streamed to their users. Thus, platforms cannot disassociate from the consequences of their ineptitude in dealing with misconduct.

Critics of social media platforms argue that its problems lie in its ability to act as an echo chamber, rigidly enforcing myopic viewpoints and existing to endorse our confirmation biases. Researchers have found that since people can select their information sources, the Internet may foster an environment where echo chambers are increasingly common. The internet’s diversity either drives people to different viewpoints or reinforces certain perspectives. Further, it has been examined that even on heterogeneous news feeds, most are likely to click on stories which are in line with their existing views rather than the opposition. Anecdotally, many have reported feeling fatigued by the political polarisation of these platforms, driving them away from seeking out the truth in favour of the comforts of familiar websites and people. Most significantly, social media’s one-sidedness has penetrated out of the virtual world and has played a part in the most high-profile far-right terror attacks in 2019, Christchurch and El Paso. These terror attacks underlined the sinister dangers of social networks and involved a familiar online dimension, encouraging terrorism. In Christchurch, 49 people were killed and the harrowing events were livestreamed by the gunman. The video went viral with Facebook removing 1.5 million videos of the attack. At one point, more than one copy of the video was uploaded on Youtube every second after the attack. Social media’s algorithm can enable civilians to engage with increasingly extremist content over time. By being personalised to specific interests, it can draw users to conspiratorial ideas that confirm existing bias and provoke action which can exacerbate extremism. As a ‘safe space’, platforms that tailor content must be held accountable for the responses triggered by that content. Research highlights that social media companies are incentivised to prioritize likeable and shareable content in an individual’s feed, which in turn puts people in an algorithmically constructed bubble. Consequently, social media platforms have algorithms which confirm biases which can manifest into harmful action. Social media influences public opinion and therefore requires some level of regulation or code of practice like newspapers or magazines.

When arguing for accountability, it is cardinal to acknowledge that social media companies rely on the magnitude of posts released onto their platforms daily to strengthen their financial positions. By making social media platforms regulators of content, it demonstrates that their platforms are influenced by morality, rather than profit. In 2019, Facebook’s revenue amounted to $70.7 billion and Twitter’s equated to $3.46 billion. The world’s largest social network, Facebook, has refused to censor content, declaring that they would allow all speech from political leaders to remain on its platform, even if they are untruthful or problematic, because this content is newsworthy and in the public’s interest to read. Researchers at MIT have found that “falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper and more broadly than the truth” with the truth taking six times as long to reach people. Consequently, movements like QAnon are able to gain traction through Facebook’s algorithm with more than 3 million aggregate followers supporting it. It would be utopian to hypothesise that Facebook’s refusal to curb hate speech and misinformation is not in the interests of reaching their financial projections. However, this laissez-faire approach within Facebook has proven to be injurious to its own profits in recent months. Throughout the months of June and July, many large advertisers including Coca-Cola, Verizon and Unilever, have paused advertising on the network because of their handling of hate speech and misinformation. Ben & Jerry’s have pushed Facebook “to take stronger action to stop its platforms from being used to divide our nation, suppress voters, foment and fan the flames of racism and violence, and undermine our democracy.” Facebook’s refusal to take a stance draws parallels with Michael Jordan’s infamous quote that “Republicans buy sneakers, too” as users who wilfully spread hate and misinformation are still monetisable assets to a social media platform. Facebook can withstand a boycott due to its magnitude which entices many brands. It is paramount to recognise that Facebook can remain complicit until its profits are directly impacted and this highlights the dangers of social media companies’ lack of accountability. By building a platform driven by advertising revenue, Facebook can ignore the real-life consequences of their platform. Hence, acting to employ more moderators to regulate viral content and slow the flow of misinformation would affect content virality which Facebook is dependent on for its advertising revenue. Resultantly, accountability must come before revenues.

In summation, accountability does not belong to the user but the platforms which profit from influencing public opinion. Consequently, if I ran a social media company, I would expect to be held accountable for the implications of posts on my platforms. Hate speech invalidates the notion of free speech. While regulation causes social media firms to err on the side of caution, users deserve platforms with a spectrum of voices while simultaneously being free of hateful content. Accountability is the only way.

Coronavirus Tracing App: If you were leading the government would you be justified in requiring people to use a surveillance and monitoring app, such as the Coronavirus Track and Trace App, if those apps ultimately benefit the community as a whole?

By Isabel Davenport

Whether the government would be justified imposing a surveillance app during an unprecedented crisis like the Coronavirus Pandemic should not be considered in terms of the short-term, practical benefit to the community as a whole. Rather, it should be considered in terms of the infringement of human rights by arbitrary powers. In this essay, I will first determine the notion of ‘requirement’, before discussing how the government would be unjustified to impose an app that unnecessarily infringed upon the right to privacy.

The notion of ‘requirement’ must be addressed to fully assess the justification of implementing a surveillance app. There is a distinction between a legal ‘requirement’ to download the app, and a moral ‘requirement’ that relies on the population’s recognition of duty to the health of their community. However, whilst this distinction must be recognised, both definitions of ‘requirement’ prove unjustifiable means to introduce the app.

First, I shall assume that there is a legal requirement. If a person was legally required to download surveillance software, this would be a major infringement on human rights and potentially discriminatory. During the Coronavirus Pandemic, states’ duty to protect the right to life (Article 6 of the ICCPR) obliges them to address the threat of deadly diseases [1]. However, this must be weighed against the violation of the right to privacy. Article 17 of the ICCPR prohibits states from intervening arbitrarily or unlawfully in the private sphere of individuals [2]. Undeniably, this sphere includes information about an individual’s health and location. Whether an infringement of privacy is justified can be distilled into three measures: i) the extent of the interference ii) whether there are necessary safeguards to protect persons against arbitrary use iii) whether the interference is necessary and proportionate [3]. Throughout the remainder of the essay, I shall prove that each of these requirements is not met.

First, the extent of interference (i) is unjustifiable. There is not only a clear privacy issue when tracing the proximities and movements of individuals without their explicit consent, but also, if individuals are required to go into isolation solely on the basis of an app alert, ie without physical testing, Article 9 pf the ICCPR would be violated due to an arbitrary deprivation of personal liberty [4].

Legal requirement to download an app of any kind could also have a discriminatory impact. Surely, the government would not be fulfilling its obligation to protect minorities if it indirectly discriminated against those with low socio-economic status who could not afford a smartphone. In China for example, proving use of a tracing app is a requisite to enter public spaces [5]. This not only threatens individuals’ freedom of movement, but people may also be excluded from society, forcing the formation of self-sufficient communities with others who cannot afford smartphones in order to survive. Admittedly, one could argue that the vast majority of the population would have smartphones, so this issue would not be widespread enough to be viable. However, preserving the majority over the vulnerable would be a violation of the government’s duty to all its citizens, and could set in place systemic discrimination based on wealth.

Secondly, if one assumes that there is only a moral requirement to download this software, the government would have to justify their actions by convincing the public that the interference is (ii) necessary and proportionate due to an ultimate benefit to the community. The assumption that a surveillance app would benefit the community must be challenged. The Ada Lovelace Institute concluded that there is ‘insufficient evidence’ that digital contact tracing is ‘an effective technology’ as a pandemic response [6]. Oxford University found that 80% of smartphone users in the UK would need to install the app for it to be effective [7]. However, in Singapore, only 17% of the population downloaded the voluntary TraceTogether app [8]. Admittedly, in Australia, the CovidSafe app had relatively high levels of adoption [9]. However, given that in the UK, only 56% of the population have smartphones [10], there would be significant barriers to effective deployment. The government cannot justify introducing a surveillance app unlikely to be effective; the infringement on rights demands more consideration than the small potential for success.

I will finally consider whether the Coronavirus tracing app would have (iii) necessary safeguards to protect persons against arbitrary use. In crisis, one can see why the utilitarian approach of exercising temporary arbitrary power could be justified by politicians. However, in a western liberalised society, unless the data processing involved absolutely minimised safeguarding violations, the temporary fix for the pandemic may set a long-term precedent of justifying arbitrary power in order to trace social networks, damaging the democratic ideology upon which our nation was built. As Ferriera argues, ‘A rush to a new normal can risk reshaping normalcy to a constriction of rights. [11]’ In Guatemala, an investigation found that their app was sending users’ location information to an American developer, exploiting surveillance for political and commercial use [12]. Thus, the only way an app could be justified as proportionate would be if it was decentralised. Yes, a centralised system may allow the government to more thoroughly understand how the virus is spreading. But, this extra information is subservient to the disproportionate level of interference with privacy. Therefore, whilst a government would still have to consider the right to privacy using a decentralised app, this would be far more justified than a centralised app that instilled an invasive surveillance infrastructure.  

In conclusion, this essay has proven that a surveillance app could not be justifiably imposed by the government. The app’s level of interference, and its lack of necessity and proportionality, means that the competing rights of privacy and public health demand more consideration to privacy. If an app was to be implemented however, the only way it could begin to satisfy the safeguarding of data would be to ensure the app was decentralised. Ultimately, the government cannot justify a mandatory surveillance app because they cannot justify exploiting arbitrary power that infringed on human rights.

Bibliography:

[1] Ines Goncalves Ferreira, ‘Contact tracing apps in the fight against Covid-19: Infringing rights to return to normal?’, PILPG, (June 2020).

[2] Ferreira, ‘Infringing rights to return to normal’.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ada Lovelace Institute, ‘Ada Lovelace Report’, ‘Rapid Evidence Review’, (April 2020).

[7] AWO Agency, ‘Covid-19 and Tech responses: Legal opinion’, (May 2020), 5 – 22, p. 10.

[8] AWO Agency, ‘Covid-19 and Tech responses’, p. 10.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ferreira, ‘Infringing rights to return to normal’.

[12] Will Brown, ‘Contact tracing apps pose huge privacy risks, human rights group warns, The Telegraph, (May 2020).

 

Stop and Search: If you were the head of the police, what do you see as the risks for using Stop and Search and whose rights should the police be protecting?

By Fome Owuasu

The procedure of stop and search (Section 60) comes with its pros and cons. However, statistics show that people from BAME backgrounds are heavily policed compared to their white counterparts (black people are more than four times as likely to be stopped and searched as white people). The heavily policing and racial profiling of the BAME community (particularly African and Caribbean) has led to increased hostilities and a breakdown of police and community relationships over the years.

1. Racial Profiling: 

A common risk of using stop and search can be the negative stereotypes that arise of who and what a criminal may like. Sociologist Holdaway argues that the police ‘canteen culture’ has contributed to the disproportionality of stop and search among the BAME community. White people are less likely to be labelled as ‘suspicious’ or as a ‘criminal’, unlike someone from a BAME background. These biases are constructed by society and the media, solely by over reporting black crime and creating a moral panic that black people commit more crime and are more deviant. Neo-Marxist Hall et al’s study on the ‘black mugger’ found out that the media created a moral panic by focusing, over reporting and exaggerating black crime such as mugging and street robberies, which helped to justify the criminalisation and policing of black youths. Similarly, the media has played a massive role in criminalising certain groups. For instance, Asians are 3x more like to be stopped and searched under the Terrorism Act (2000). 

Furthermore, moral panics and racial profiling can subsequently lead to deviancy amplification; the persecuted/targeted group feels hostile towards the police and become resentful leading to an increase in crime rates. This can be seen as a form of political activism; rebelling against an unfair system which continuously marginalises and targets a minority group again and again.

Stereotypes shape police officers’ ideas, which contributes to the disproportionality in stop and search among the BAME community. Not only does the BAME community feel alienated and targeted, but this also creates an underlying feeling of anxiety and fear. Many young BAME teenagers and adults have to double think about certain areas they go to, what they are wearing and so on, because they fear that they will be racially profiled. Is it right for people to live in fear, when the role of police officers is to lawfully protect the public? 

2. Mistrust:

Unarguably the disproportionality of stop and search among other ethnic groups than others has led to a breakdown between the police and the wider community. The lack of trust is due to polices’ stereotypes of a criminal (usually someone from a BAME background), racial profiling and some police offers abusing their stop and search powers. Due to this most people from the BAME community are more unlikely to call the police when they need help, because they know that they will be treated like a suspect rather than a victim/witness. This means that more crimes within the BAME community go unreported as public confidence in the police has declined substantially. The police need to actively work with the community to help rebuild trust. One way this can be achieved is by allowing these groups to have more say in shaping public policy. 

The police have powers to stop and search an individual if they ‘have reasonable grounds to suspect’ you’ve committed a crime or carrying an illegal item. However, this brings into debate of what a suspicious person looks like. In most situations, the typical profile which is targeted is likely to be someone from the BAME community. An article from the Guardian stated that black people make up 15.6% of London’s population, while white people make up 59.8%. In 2018, 43% of searches were of black people, while 35.5% were of white people, according to the London Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC). A criminal can be anyone regardless of their age, sex or race. However, the label criminal/suspicious is often attached to POC and. Even today section 60 is disputed by many, seen as a tool of discrimination and oppression.

The main problem is that communities trust the police less as they feel that they are no longer working in their interest or protecting the community.

3. Whose rights should the police be protecting?

The police should be protecting everyone. Their role is to maintain law and order, protect the public, reduce the fear of crime and to improve the quality of life for all citizens. Although a police officer’s role seems quite self-explanatory, it’s far more controversial than that. Essentially, police officers are agents of the law and so should not be taking the law into their own hands. However, this is completely unavoidable as we are all humans. Peoples personal and political views shape their day to day interactions and lives, even police officers! In these institutions there are flaws, some people do hold racist views etc, which means that some groups are treated better and protected more than others. Contesting human rights seems completely absurd, but even today certain groups and minorities are targeted and disadvantaged by these institutions (the police/the law) which govern our everyday lives as they failed to protect basic human rights.

This topic surely cannot be overlooked. The death of George Floyd also resonated with the British public as shown in the many protests which took place throughout the UK, protesting police brutality in the UK and systematic racism. Evidently people of colour are not protected equally under the law. For example, most POC have had a negative experience with the police. When stopped and searched they are treated in degrading and inhuman ways, such as police officers shown to be using excessive force. Even in lockdown, black people have still been disproportionately targeted by the police as figures show that more fines have been issued to black people in comparison to other ethnic groups. 

To conclude, the use of stop and search must be investigated and scrutinised in order to achieve well needed reform within the systems here in the UK. Although it is effective in helping control crime rates, it’s also seen as a mechanism of systematic oppression which has heavily disadvantaged and targeted the BAME community. 

 

Stop and Search: If you were the head of the police, what do you see as the risks for using Stop and Search and whose rights should the police be protecting?

By Sultan Khokhar

At the core of our internationally prized legal system lies the notion of equality before the law and the presumption of innocence. In recent years, police powers to stop and search people they deem suspicious have caused great controversy. Some consider them to be discriminatory and thus a violation of some of our most fundamental rights to liberty, while others see them as necessary to combat the recent rise in violent crime [1]. But the question that lies at the heart of the argument is, does stop and search do more harm than good? And who do the police have a duty to first: the communities they are trying to protect, or the citizens whose individual freedoms appear to be the cost of doing so?

In the year ending March 2019, there were around 47,000 offences involving a “knife or sharp instrument” in England and Wales, an 80% increase from 2014 [2]. For some, including our current government, this dramatic rise in knife crime is definitive evidence that police need to be stricter than ever before. Although the number of stops and searches have continually fallen since 2008/9 – when they peaked at 1.5 million – the rate at which stops and searches lead to an arrest is higher than ever, at 17% [3]. The principle behind stop and search is to reduce and investigate crime by identifying individuals who may be involved in a criminal offence, perhaps because they are behaving suspiciously or are in an area with high crime rates. In some respects, stop and search is a proactive approach to tackling crime in the areas where it is most abundant, indeed in 2017/18 one third of stops and searches resulted in a “positive outcome”, they led to some sort of further action; what’s more, is that the two thirds that were “No Further Actions” were not necessarily failures – their effect could be taken to be that innocent people would not later be unfairly arrested [4]. While it is true that the vast majority of people subject to a stop and search were deemed innocent, this way of thinking suggests that their experience was ultimately a side-effect, collateral almost, of the pursuit of the greater good.

There are a number of risks associated with stop and search, with the most glaring one being discrimination. According to data published by the Ministry of Justice, you are over nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than a white person if you are black [5]. That is an alarming figure, not only because it highlights a major betrayal of the principle of equality before the law but especially so, considering the fact that actually, positive outcome rates are extremely similar for all ethnicities [6]. So, despite the fact that there seems to be no correlation between race and whether someone is carrying out a criminal offence, nine times as many black people are subjected to the embarrassment and distress that a stop and search brings. The division that this disparity brings can have enduring consequences; if communities feel that they are being targeted unfairly by police forces, they will be less likely to cooperate with them in the future, less likely to report crime and less likely to trust the very people with the responsibility to protect them [8].

The role of police in society is one of protection; their position exists to serve and protect the wellbeing of the communities they oversee. When this obligation loses its focus, surely the police force as an institution is no longer performing the duty it exists to perform? That is the fundamental issue that many hold with stop and search; that it does not fulfil this obligation, rather it compromises the rights and freedoms of the very people our police forces are sworn to protect. While proponents of stop and search will argue that it plays an important role in preventing crime, the fact of the matter is that it sacrifices the right of ordinary people to freedom from unbased suspicion in order to serve a supposed greater good. Is this not problematic? A stop and search can be traumatic for an innocent person, to live with the knowledge that you were suspected of wrongdoing simply because of how you look. It is more evident than ever that (noble and well-meaning though many of them may be) it is not responsible to entrust decisions such as who is suspicious and who is not to individual police officers. We simply have to look to the US, where institutional racism and its deadly consequences have come to the fore, to see the dangers of allowing police to act on their whims. It was recently discovered that hundreds of police officers in the UK have convictions for “crimes including assault, burglary and animal cruelty” [7]. Are we truly the historic emblem of law and justice that we pride ourselves on being if our liberty is entrusted to an institution which overlooks such things? Though such officers are certainly the minority, none of us should be comfortable with the fact that there is even the smallest chance our freedom could be unjustly infringed.

Ultimately it is a matter of justice. Certainly, the police have a responsibility, indeed a duty to protect the rights of the good people of their communities, but this can not and must not excuse the violation of the rights of the innocent in the pursuit of justice. Stop and search undeniably subjects innocent people to suspicion and treatment that they do not deserve and such a scheme has no place in a just and fair system where the presumption of innocence exists. Above their duty to protect society lies the police’s, as well as the state’s duty to ensure that in the meting out of justice, the rights of innocent people are not compromised. Stop and search in its present form is incompatible with the ideals that underpin our society.

Bibliography:

1. BBC, 2019. Challenging The Police Over Stop And Search.

Available at <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-47503791/knife-crime-challenging-the-police-over-stop-and-search> [Accessed 6 July 2020].

2. Allen, G., Audickas, L., Loft, P. and Bellis, A., 2019. Knife Crime In England And Wales. House of Commons Library, pp.6-11.

3. Full Fact. 2019. Does Stop And Search Work?. [online] Available at: <https://fullfact.org/crime/does-stop-search-work/> [Accessed 6 July 2020].

4. Full Fact. 2019. Stop And Search In England And Wales. [online] Available at: <https://fullfact.org/crime/stop-and-search-england-and-wales/> [Accessed 7 July 2020].

5. Ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk. 2020. Stop And Search. [online] Available at: <https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/crime-justice-and-the-law/policing/stop-and-search/latest#main-facts-and-figures> [Accessed 7 July 2020].

6. Liberty. 2019. Stop And Search – Liberty. [online] Available at <https://www.libertyhumanrights.org.uk/fundamental/stop-and-search/> [Accessed 8 July 2020].

7. Mercer, D., 2020. Hundreds of UK police officers have convictions for crimes including assault, burglary and animal cruelty. Sky News, [online] Available at: <https://news.sky.com/story/assault-burglary-and-animal-cruelty-police-officers-convicted-of-crimes-working-for-uk-forces-12024264> [Accessed 11 July 2020].

8. App.college.police.uk. n.d. Stop And Search. [online] Available at: <https://www.app.college.police.uk/app-content/stop-and-search/> [Accessed 11 July 2020].

 

If you were the head of the police, what do you see as the risks for using Stop and Search and whose rights should the police be protecting?

By Niamh Whelan

Stop and search: a subject that has been debated vigorously since its introduction under the Police and Evidence Act in 1984. Although a method intended for allaying crime, stop and search has been criticised for infringing upon human rights, often being associated with police brutality and racism. For years, it has been argued that stop and search augments distrust between the police and targeted communities, nullifying its potential to protect the public. However, many also believe that stop and search, when performed in adherence to the rules concerning human rights, can provide security to many aspects of society. This essay will evaluate the efficacy of stop and search, discussing the protection it can bring to society and how it could be improved to ensure that everybody involved is treated with justice.

Eleanor Roosevelt stated that “Justice cannot be for one side alone, but must be for both,” (Roosevelt, n.d). This quote is applicable to stop and search: it can only elicit benefits if the police abide by the rules. When an individual undergoes stop and search, the officers involved “need to do it lawfully” and “be very courteous” wherever possible, according to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick (Dick 2017). Officers are expected to inform the individual of their name, police station and that the search is a legal procedure. Managing the process in a calm professional manner would arouse minimal anxiety, and individuals without illicit items will be able to leave without further police supervision. In contrast, Diane Abbott, Shadow Home Secretary, claims that stop and search is a “tried-and-tested recipe for unrest, not violence reduction,” (Abbott, 2019). To an extent, Abbott’s statement is correct as officers who abuse the powers of stop and search can leave people traumatised. However, if it is used in “the right professional and legal way,” (Patel 2019), stop and search proves highly useful when preventing acts of violence; it has averted numerous potential crimes, conceivably saving lives. Currently, 32% of all searches have resulted in the confirmation of police suspicions. Therefore, instead of provoking distress, stop and search should be used for diminishing violence, clearing the streets of a multitude of drugs and perilous weapons. Officers believing otherwise should indubitably be removed from the police force.

Another issue concerning stop and search is racism. In 2012, the Gang Violence Matrix was implemented in London. The Matrix was a database intended for monitoring gang crime; it held the personal information of people suspected of being associated with gangs. By October 2017, 78% of those recorded on the Matrix were of Black ethnicity, and approximately 40% had not been involved in violent crime. Furthermore, according to Metropolitan Police data, Black people only constituted 27% of youth violence. Dr Patrick Williams, senior lecturer in Criminology at the Manchester Metropolitan University, notes that this is an example of “over policing of the black community” (Williams 2018). Those recorded on the Matrix would have been subjected to frequent stop and search. In October 2018, Dr Williams, interviewed fifteen Londoners who were recorded on the Matrix. Many of them reported having “positive attitudes” towards the police before undergoing to stop and search, claiming that it was a “catalyst for the onset of their negative relationship with the police.” (Williams 2018). This implies that increased contact with the police can compel individuals to harbour resentment and mistrust towards them, making them less likely to adhere to police policies. Consequently, stop and search can have an adverse effect, potentially goading crime and causing ethnic minorities to be “pathologized as inherently deviant” (Franklyn 2018), as stated by youth worker Addo Franklyn who had been stop and searched many times before. Nevertheless, rather than removing stop and search, the police should focus more on suspending officers who are accused or suspected of racism. The campaign Stopwatch works against the disproportionate use of stop and search; the campaign encourages people to stay calm and provides an app which can be used to record experiences of stop and search. The app could help monitor any racism in the police force and lead to the dismissal of discriminatory officers. This will diminish the abuse derived from stop and search, whilst preserving it for its advantages in alleviating crime.

Furthermore, it is argued that, with stop and search, “policing is near impracticable” (Williams 2018) due to the resultant mistrust and lack of confidence towards the police. Examples of this can be observed in the Black Lives Matter protests which took place in London. During one of the protests, a Black 16-year-old, going by the name of Gerard, was attacked with a glass bottle by a group of counter-protesters. Gerard approached an officer for help; the officer looked at Gerard’s injuries “but also stopped and searched him” (Braddick 2020). Afterwards, the officer left Gerard, although he did not feel safe in the area. When being used in this way, stop and search appears counterproductive, unnecessarily giving citizens negative associations with the police. However, if the officer had been more solicitous and helpful towards Gerard, the process of stop and search would have been a much less disagreeable experience. Using stop and search to check an injured person for weapons is a sensible procedure as wounds are indicative of violence. In most cases, it is the attitudes of the officers performing stop and search that affect an individual’s experience, not the protocol itself.

Ultimately, stop and search is a successful means of preventing crime, however it should be improved to ensure that every individual involved is treated with justice. This essay has reviewed how stop and search can provide public security, remove illicit items and potentially save lives, all of which are reasons for why it should be kept. Nevertheless, stop and search is fallible, arousing problems concerning breaches of social justice. These issues must be eliminated by using the solutions latterly discussed in order to make stop and search reach its full potential. Hence, stop and search should be conserved, yet refined.

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