London Mayor Sadiq Khan reads out mean tweets about himself. First it’s funny, then it’s serious.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan at the March4Women event in London on March 4.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan at the March4Women event in London on March 4.

Image: Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Mayor of London does not usually attend SXSW, but this year he had a very specific reason for going.

Sadiq Khan gave a speech at the SXSW Technology conference in Austin, Texas, on Monday. 

He called for tighter tech regulation from social media to curb hate speech online, and illustrated his point Khan shared six abusive, islamophobic tweets that have been directed at him.

Then he went a step further. Khan released a video on his Twitter account, which at first seemed like a standard edition of Jimmy Kimmel’s famous “mean tweets” format.

At first the tweets were amusing, saying Khan looks like a “pigeon,” a “sparrow,” and a “really shit stunt double for José Mourinho.”

Then they transitioned into the kind of islamophobic abuse Khan had addressed at the conference.

“I don’t read this out to be portrayed as a victim,” says Khan, “but I worry about what happens when young boys and girls from minority backgrounds see this kind of thing on their social media timelines, or experience it for themselves.”

He also talked about the abuse that women and girls face online, abuse which he fears drives them away from such platforms, “reversing our long fight for gender equality.”

He’s not the only British politician to have addressed online abuse in this way. Mhairi Black, SNP representative for Paisley & Renfrewshire South in Scotland, recently read out the misogynist abuse she has received to a Westminster Hall committee.

“Me and my pals actually laugh about it, that how I cope with it,” says Black, “I find the best insults and that’s how we have a laugh.” But she points out how normalised the abuse has become.

Khan’s “mean tweets” calls attention to that normalisation, in that it draws people in with the amusing insults, heightening the shock when he jack-knifes into the abusive ones.

“It’s on all of us to tackle this problem,” says Khan, “social media companies, politicians, and media, and you. Let’s work together to end this hate.”

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