Speaking in Parliament on 8 November she said:
'I am introducing this Bill because I am appalled by the proliferation of online videos glorifying gangs and serious youth violence. The police, via the courts and internet service providers, need to be given explicit power to get these videos taken down or to get access to them blocked. These videos act as a recruitment mechanism for gangs. I believe they lead to an increased number of young people in our cities who feel the need to carry a knife for protection and they terrify any ordinary human being who watches them.
I first came across these videos last year, when a constituent contacted me after his son had been the victim of a gang-related mugging. He sent me links to a video that was up on YouTube of the gang that had robbed his son. The video was filmed in broad daylight in a car park in the heart of Catford. It contained images of 10 to 15 young men—perhaps I should say boys—rapping, swearing and waving knives around as if they were cigarettes. The video boasts about violence; it is menacing, sickening and frightening. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of these sorts of videos on the internet, not just on YouTube, but on sites such as Spiff TV. If someone types “Brixton gangs”, “Hackney gangs” or “Lewisham gangs” into any online audio-visual search facility, they will find these videos. Not all contain images of knives, but the narrative is the same, “Mess with us and we’ll stab you.” These videos have been viewed tens of thousands of times each—sometimes hundreds of thousands of times'.
(full speech here)
While not wanting to belittle the problems of gangs and violence, I question the response of censoring the internet to deal with them. There all kinds of complex social and economic reasons why gangs exist, and it is all too easy to blame social media. In the aftermath of this summer's riots there has been an escalating panic about them - but people have been rioting, robbing and stabbing each other since long before any of these things were invented.
Some online videos might be interpreted as promoting gangs, but banning them isn't going to make gangs go away - it might just hide the reality. I have looked at some of these videos. My first thought was that I would rather be able to see for myself what some of my neighbours are up to, whether I like it or not. It is also obvious that there is a great deal of posturing and bravado - who's to say what is genuine violent intent and what is just some kids showing off? Really serious career criminals don't tend to provide police with the obvious intelligence helping hand of showing their faces on the screen (I know some of them are masked, but it's not hard to recognise people if they're known to you). You don't see many 'hey hey we're the mafia' videos do you?
Likewise who's to draw the line between glorifying gangs and creative musical expression? A lot of DIY rap and grime videos could be victims of a catch-all ban like this. Similar arguments were made in the early 90s about banning 'gangsta rap' for glorifying violence - apart from denying people from around the world from hearing some of the most innovative music of the period, this ban would have simply swept under the carpet depictions of a world that many people would prefer not to think about but exists nevertheless. Music is also one route out of the limited horizons of gang culture - some of those kids boasting about how they run 'their endz' might go on to greater things - see for example the success of Peckham rapper Giggs.
I do think though I should be able to choose for myself whether to listen to this kind of music and make my own mind up about such films. Even if you find it abhorrent, maybe it's telling you something you need to know about the city you live in.
Heidi Alexander's Bill is also supported by Joan Ruddock, MP for Lewisham Deptford. It is though unlikely to become law, as few Private Members Bills get granted the time to get through Parliament.