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Viral bus rants don’t prove prejudice is on the rise

Guy Birchall

Topics Politics

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In London, two people in as many weeks have been filmed spouting vile, vitriolic abuse at Muslims on buses – and both have had their collars felt by the authorities after the footage found its way online.

One of the culprits was an-as-yet-unnamed 25-year-old man who was shown telling a fellow, elderly passenger to ‘fuck off back to Turkey’ before hurling the poor man’s Zimmer frame off the bus. The other was Simone Joseph, a mother of three, who has admitted to causing racially aggravated distress after calling two Muslim women on the bus ‘ISIS bitches’.

This kind of behaviour is abhorrent; it is impossible to defend the kind of abuse that was doled out by these two plainly unpleasant people. But there is something else going on here that is new and insidious.

Over the past few years there have been more and more instances of this kind of vigilante surveillance being performed by bystanders with camera phones. Generally what happens is someone spots someone losing it for one reason or another (it is rarely clear what provoked them) and then films them unleashing a torrent of abuse. Then, the footage finds its way online and activists point to it as evidence of an increase in racism or Islamophobia.

Putting aside the fact that it is wrong to try individuals on social media before they’ve seen the inside of a courtroom, these vile but rare occurrences cannot be pointed to as proof of an increase in prejudice. All these videos prove is that there are still some ignorant and stupid people out there – as well as many more self-aggrandising internet activists.

Indeed, if the people who film these incidents were so concerned with justice being done, you’d think they would send their videos to the police and allow them to pursue it in the usual way – but they don’t. Instead, they share them online as clickbait, designed to make themselves, and everyone else who retweets and shares them, feel good about themselves.

One also has to question why people prefer to film racist incidents rather than intervene. Surely if your motive is preventing abuse then it would make more sense to stop the abuse occurring right in front of you rather than complaining about it later on Twitter?

Prejudice is not on the rise – it’s just better documented. Britain is pretty tolerant, and we should be proud of that, rather than insisting on holding up the occasional bad egg as proof that the nation is in the grip of bigotry.

Guy Birchall is a writer based in Stoke.

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Topics Politics

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