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Hate crimes have gone up in the US, both online and offline, FBI says

The rise in hate crime incidents comes as social media companies are under scrutiny for their hate speech policies.

Hate crime
FBI members outside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 11 people were killed in a mass shooting in October. 
Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images

Hate crimes went up by about 17 percent in the US last year, according to FBI data released Tuesday. They rose from 6,121 total reported incidents in 2016 to 7,175 incidents in 2017. 

The number of incidents that took place online also jumped, going from 4 in 2016 to 11 in 2017. The FBI's data says some law enforcement agencies use different reporting methods, and "cyberspace" isn't a location for all of them. Therefore, the number of hate crime incidents online could be higher. 

The rise comes at a time when social media companies are coming under scrutiny for their hate speech policies. Tech giants like Facebook, Google and Twitter have said pushing back against hate speech is part of their responsibility, but some of their decisions on what to block (or not) have led to pushback from lawmakers and advocacy groups. 

Facebook and Twitter came under fire earlier this year after initially allowing Alex Jones and his conspiracy theory site InfoWars to remain on their services. The platforms eventually suspended Jones and InfoWars. And in July, Congress members questioned Facebook, Google and Twitter about how they choose which content to block and if there's any political bias involved, which the companies denied

Tech giants including Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft also teamed up with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) last year in an effort to combat online hate. In April, Facebook released the comprehensive guidelines its content moderators use to determine whether content should be allowed on the platform, which the ADL applauded for its transparency. Still, the advocacy group said Facebook needs to work with independent organizations and academic researchers "to open up Facebook's data around hate speech for study."

The FBI's report comes just weeks after 11 people were killed in a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

"This report is a call to action -- and we will heed that call," acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said in a statement Tuesday. "The Department of Justice's top priority is to reduce violent crime in America, and hate crimes are violent crimes. They are also despicable violations of our core values as Americans."

First published Nov. 13, 2:32 p.m. PT.
Update, Nov. 14 at 12:18 p.m.: Adds statement from acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker.

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