This week is National Hate Crime Awareness Week. At this time every year organisations, charities and individuals get together to raise awareness of all types of hate crime and focus on the issues that blight many in our society today.
Hate crime comes in many forms - racist and religious; disability; homophobic, biphobic and transphobic - but it is always motivated by hostility or prejudice. This week the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) published its Annual Report on hate crime, which showed it prosecuted over 14,000 people for hate crime offences in 2016-17.
Perhaps more importantly, more people than ever have received an increased sentence following evidence that the crime was motivated by hate.
While it is clear that progress is being made to tackle incidents of hate, it is also important to look at how the landscape is changing around us.
It is no secret that social media is becoming more prevalent in our everyday lives. Social media companies, including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have created platforms for people to come together, communicate and collaborate. However, these same platforms are being used to spread hate, abuse and extremism.
With the anonymity that the internet allows, those who want to be bullies online feel that they are somehow able to say things that they wouldn't say in person.
It is the message and not the medium that we need to be concerned with. Hate is hate, no matter how it is communicated and needs to be treated with the utmost seriousness.
The CPS has recently produced guidance to prosecutors to ensure that these online bullies who hide behind their computer screens will now face the same repercussions as those who commit hate crime in person. The law does not differentiate between criminal offences committed on social media or anywhere else - it is the action that is illegal. What is illegal offline is illegal online.
However, it is important to remember that the threshold is a high one. This is not about stopping people from expressing themselves or feeling unable to speak freely. This is about those who are victims of damaging comments and threats being afforded the same protections as if it was someone confronting them in the street.
Whilst the threshold is high, online hate crime can have an even more devastating impact on victims, than one committed face to face. Before social media, those who may have been a victim of hate could get respite when they got home and close their front door. Now, people can be put in fear in their very own home, often from a person they do not even know.
There is no doubt that tackling online hate crime presents its own challenges. Policing this will not be an easy task and will rely heavily on those who are subject to the abuse coming forward and reporting it. Racist, sexist or homophobic language is unacceptable and victims of this should feel confident that they will be protected with the full force of the law.
It is also vital that social media companies respond quickly to incidents of abusive behaviour on their networks. I would like to see companies to do more to proactively detect and remove illegal content from their platforms and put robust processes in place to respond promptly when abuse is reported. Both social media sites and users need to take responsibility.
Online hate crime is not an issue that will be eradicated overnight. The government is committed to working with businesses and providers to look at real world solutions to challenge these incidents when they happen. In the meantime, we will continue to prosecute these cases with the full force of the law to send a strong message to these perpetrators, that hate will not be tolerated.