Sadiq Khan is no stranger to online hate.
As London’s mayor, he is possibly the United Kingdom’s highest-profile Muslim. He has had a long-running spat with President Donald Trump, which has included trading shots over Trump’s ban on refugees from Muslim-majority countries and Khan’s response to the June terror attack in London.
It is not unusual for him to receive Islamophobic messages on Twitter, Khan said. He has preferred to keep these messages to himself, but he shared several Monday during a South by Southwest keynote panel.
One told him to deport all Muslims. Another said killing him would rid London of a terrorist. And one Twitter user said he or she would pay to have Khan killed.
“All of this is dividing and polarizing us, rather than uniting us,” Khan said. “I know this all too well from personal experience.”
Khan, who SXSW’s Chief of Programming Hugh Forrest said was the first British politician to give a keynote address at the festival, told the packed crowd that technology has rapidly altered the fabric of society.
On one hand, it has done tremendous good in connecting people and sharing ideas.
But it has also caused harm by inadvertently creating platforms for hate speech. Khan used his address to call on both innovators and politicians to attack these problems before they fester.
“There are growing concerns about the way some of the biggest companies on the planet are impacting our lives and the overall well-being of our societies,” he said. “In some cases, these new platforms have been used to exacerbate, fuel and deepen the divisions within our communities.”
Khan noted that the latest technologies have the ability to cause change at an exponential pace and have a global impact faster than ever before.
For that, it is wise to be mindful of the past. He noted that with each great wave of technological advancement, traditional job sectors can be left behind. In the 19th century, textile workers smashed machine looms because the machines threatened their way of life. In the 1980s, the coal workers in the United Kingdom saw their occupation wane and disappear with little action from the government.
Those neglected sectors are where Khan said resentment can germinate. With no easy solutions to the economic hardships that sprout from technological disruption, a disingenuous message pandering to fear can flourish, he said.
It’s happening now, Khan said, and both politicians and businesses are failing to act.
“There’s been a dereliction of duty on the part of politicians and policymakers to ensure that the rapid growth in technology is utilized and steered in a direction that benefits us all,” he said.