To say that president Trump and Sadiq Khan like each other, would be a lie. The American president repeatedly hate-tweeted the Mayor of London, criticising the way Sadiq Khan dealt with terrorist attacks on London.
Sadiq Khan delighted the world with a swift uppercut, making sure that Trump understood that the Mayor of London does not have to take shit from anybody, no, not even from Trump. The tension between the two has been palpable ever since.
Trump must be eating his Make America great again hat, seeing Sadiq Khan appearing on stage at SXSW, and –there is no other word- rocking it. The avalanche of comment, tweets, and buzz around the speech of Khan steals the thunder from the appearance of Bernie Sanders earlier this week.
Bring it on, Trump
Khan was comfortable. He immediately brought up the elephant in the room, his feud with Trump, and the clear lack of respect the 45th president of the United States of America holds for the Mayor of London. “I’m delighted to be in the same time zone as Donald Trump for once”, Khan said: “that makes it so much easier if Donald wants to bring it on on Twitter.”
Blow yourself up, take the Virgins
Khan was direct. He set the tone by reading six direct threats to his person, directly addressed to him on social media. The tweets are mean, racist. The messages even promise him death and doom, and culminate in asking Khan to blow himself up –like Muslims do- and “take” the virgins.
Khan was bigger than the room, reading the tweets, one by one with a controlled gravitas. To say that the audience was shocked, was an understatement. Hearing the insulting messages was downright painful.
Shame on you, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube!
Khan was clear. He blamed the social platforms Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for being inert, and apparently being unable or unwilling to do something to prevent the deluge of hate, racist attacks, and the spread of fake news, hurtful harassment and pure anti-personal propaganda on their respective platforms. Kahn warned that messages like the ones he received are a daily reality for minority children, youngsters, and adults. “Can you imagine what impact such hate has on your development? On your self-esteem? On how you see your career choices? On your vision for the rest of your life?”
With power comes responsibility
Khan was unapologetic. It takes more than guts, it takes brass balls to be standing on stage in a conference that always advocated freedom of everything, in the weirdest city of Texas, in the Land of the Free and demand regulation. With all the skills, data, logarithms, and abundant resources these US companies have at their disposal, they should be doing way more to address the problems that make them toxic, and kill the spread of hate, bigotry, false news and racism right at the cradle, before it hits their platforms.
Khan was threatening. A heavy and eager user of Social Media himself, he made it clear he appreciates the many positive ways in which the social media platforms allow users to connect with their friends and loved ones. How it helps building communities, how it opens endless possibilities to share, speak, interact and create.
“It is however extremely important to not lose sight of how these very same networks are being used to divide communities all across the globe. With the power of the big social networks comes massive responsibility. Tech companies must understand the impact they’re having on the world today, and face the consequences“.
Regulate, or be regulated
Khan gave no quarter. He pointed out that if Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and all the others don’t take the clear issues seriously, and start acting accordingly, there will be hell to pay. If the industry is unwilling or unable to regulate itself on this, Khan proposes –not so sweetly- to do it for them.
If the social platforms are not able –or rather not willing- to take immediate action, they will face getting regulated by governments and institutions across the planet. If more countries join Germany, who started fining all social networks up to €50 million if they fail to remove abusive, intrusive and racist hate posts within 24 hours of detection; the platforms might hit an extremely rocky sea.
“I have a tremendous respect for freedom of speech” said Khan: “And I really hope it doesn’t come to that.” But for Kahn, the freedom of an individual ends, where the freedom of another begins.
Nobody is above the law
Khan points at the law. Citizens all over the world are protected against racism, bigotry, death threats etc. through laws. Khan frowned at as well the US tech companies –for not respecting- as well as at the Trump administration –for not enforcing it-.
Kahn is more than a Mayor. He radiates the humming confidence, power, and respectful charisma of a true man of state.
Kahn showed Trump in the most painful way that it is never a matter of size.
It is what you stand for.