US President Joe Biden has called on Americans to speak out against racism, saying he would ask Congress to do more to hold social media companies accountable for spreading hate.
“White supremacists will not have the last word,” Biden said on Thursday at the United We Stand Summit of local leaders, experts and survivors.
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Biden said the United States had long experienced a “through line of hate” against minority groups, one that had been given “too much oxygen” by politics and the media in recent years.
The event also recognised communities that suffered hate-based attacks, including mass shootings at a gay nightclub in Orlando in 2016 and at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket earlier this year, in which 10 Black people were gunned down by an avowed racist.
Hate crimes in the US hit a 12-year high in 2020, the last available data, the FBI said last year.
‘Silence is complicity’
Participants gave Biden a standing ovation when he said he wanted Congress to “hold social media companies accountable for spreading hate”.
“I’m calling on Congress to get rid of special immunity for social media companies and impose much stronger transparency requirements on all of them,” Biden said.
The White House has repeatedly called for revoking Section 230, a law that shields online companies from liability over content posted by users, and has also supported ramping up anti-trust and transparency enforcement on technology companies.
The White House event comes just weeks after Biden warned in a speech in Philadelphia that “extremist” Republicans are a threat to democracy.
Biden addressed criticism that the speech was divisive on Thursday.
“Silence is complicity, we can’t remain silent,” Biden said. “There are those that say we bring this up, we divide the country. Bringing it up we silence it.”
Several big technology companies also joined in. YouTube said it was expanding its efforts to combat “violent extremism” by removing content glorifying violent acts for the purpose of inspiring others to commit harm, fundraise, or recruit.
Microsoft said it was expanding the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning tools to detect credible threats of violence, and use gaming to build empathy.
Earlier this week, the Biden administration also announced $20m for dozens of organisations working to prevent hate-fuelled violence. The recipients included two historically Black colleges and universities, and two groups serving the LGBTQ community.
“Through the grant awards we are announcing today, we are equipping local communities and organizations — including those historically underserved — with needed resources so they can become more effective partners, strengthen our security, and help the American people feel safe and secure in our daily lives,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement on Wednesday.