Friends use Facebook to document post-referendum racism claims

By Daniel Wainwright
BBC News

image copyright@DWxLW
image captionProtesters with an anti-immigration poster in Newcastle following the referendum.

For its thousands of followers, the Facebook page Worrying Signs makes for uncomfortable reading about post-referendum Britain.

Since the UK voted to leave the European Union, social media users have shared stories of xenophobia, with reports of people being told to "go home" or worse.

Disturbed by the "incredibly sad" posts, three friends from different parts of England set up a Facebook group to expose the alleged hate crimes.

Worrying Signs started out as a collection of screengrabs of tweets and other social media posts following the referendum results on 24 June.

It was shared so much that Sarah Childs, who first compiled the album, and her friends Natasha Blank and Yasmin Weaver decided to create a dedicated group, collating more than 400 posts.

The group has since grown to about 18,000 members.

At the same time, the police-backed website True Vision, which allows people to report hate crimes, has seen a five-fold increase, with 331 incidents compared with a weekly average of 63.

The figures are not broken down by area but some forces have shared details of reports they have received. Greater Manchester Police said it experienced a 50% rise in a week.

The women behind Worrying Signs believe it is just the tip of the iceberg.

Mrs Blank, a 32-year-old marketing professional from Manchester, said more than 400 images had been shared with the group, but she believes many more people were afraid to do so publicly, with their name displayed on Facebook.

With that in mind, the group has also created an online form for sharing incidents with the group without posting openly on Facebook.

She said: "Police reporting figures alone do not give the full picture.

"For a lot of people the only way they know to contact police is by calling 999. Many won't be aware of the non-emergency number they could use (101). And that means so much of this is going unreported."

The online form is intended for anyone who wishes to share details without being identified. However, Mrs Blank said it was not a means of reporting incidents to the police and anyone wishing to do so should use official channels.

Hate crime in England and Wales

The most recent official figures on hate crime were published in October 2015. They showed 52,528 reported hate crimes in 2014-15.

There were also 53,902 racist incidents, a second year-on-year rise, but still lower than the 55,134 recorded in 2009-10.

Bedfordshire and Sussex saw the biggest percentage increase between 2013-14 and 2014-15.

'Maybe this can be solved'

The three friends, who met while studying at the University of Birmingham, communicate daily via Skype, with 32-year-old Ms Childs in Sheffield and 31-year-old Mrs Weaver in Birmingham.

image copyrightNatasha Blank
image captionNatasha Blank and two friends are collating social media posts alleging racism and xenophobia since the referendum

Mrs Blank said: "We didn't expect the community that has grown around the group and the stories that people have shared.

"It was wonderful but also incredibly sad. We want people to feel comfortable and to know they have a place here.

"If we can drill into what they are telling us then maybe this can be solved."

Twitter said it would work with others to tackle the "root causes" of hate crime.

A spokesman said: "Hateful conduct has no place on Twitter and we will continue to tackle this issue head on alongside our partners in industry and civil society.

"We remain committed to letting the tweets flow. However, there is a clear distinction between freedom of expression and conduct that incites violence and hate."

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, the National Police Chiefs' Council lead for hate crime, said: "There was an increase in reports of hate crime over the weekend to True Vision, the national online reporting site, and some disgraceful examples of racial abuse have been reported around the country this week.

"We are closely monitoring the situation and are working with forces to get a fuller picture of tensions and hate crime.

"The government commitment to a new action plan to tackle hate crime recognises the need for a range of organisations to come together and work closely with those affected by hate crime to increase reporting and prevent abuse."

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