A BRADFORD community figure is calling for more parents to take an "active interest" in their children's online lives, amid his claim that "online hatred" has risen as a result of the pandemic.

Javed Bashir, who is a safeguarding consultant with Bradford-based Strengthening Faith Institutions (SFI), says that there have been "increasing reports" of people "exploiting the Covid crisis to sow division" in the form of online bullying, which he adds can often have racist, homophobic or sexist undertones.

Mr Bashir - who received an honorary doctorate from the University of Bradford in December, for his services to the community throughout lockdown - says that, with schools closed and children spending more time online, they are becoming "exposed to online hatred" more than ever before.

SFI is an organisation which promotes community cohesion, inclusive education and has donated food packages to vulnerable people across the Bradford district since lockdown began nearly a year ago.

The organisation has also helped to carry out Covid-19 risk assessments for Bradford's places of worship and out-of-school settings.

Mr Bashir, who was born in Pakistan and grew up in Keighley, says that SFI has seen an increase in online bullying and hate crime since lockdown started, adding that it "can have a real impact on young people’s well-being".

"Since the outbreak of the pandemic, there have been increasing reports of extremists exploiting the crisis to sow division and undermine the social fabric of our society by creating fear, uncertainty and anxiety", he said.

"Covid-19 restrictions and the closure of schools and supplementary schools have led to children spending more time behind a screen for online classes and using social networks, apps, chat rooms and online gaming more frequently. 

"Online bullying has existed for a long time, but this has all now led to our young people being more exposed to it, often in the seclusion of their own homes and bedrooms.

"This online hatred could be directed against certain faith and ethnic groups. It can also be directed at refugees, as well as sexual minorities, while sexism and gender-based abuse are also huge problems."

Mr Bashir added that a recent report from Ofcom showed that 33 per cent of parents and children were "concerned" about being exposed to online hate.

"Being exposed to online hate can have a real impact on young people’s well-being", he continued.

"It can also normalise discrimination, hateful attitudes and behaviours towards certain groups of people.

"Victims of online hate may suffer from low self-esteem, have increased anxiety and experience feelings of fear and insecurity.

"They may also feel lonely or isolated, as well as embarrassed - and therefore want to deal with the problem by themselves - and may feel left out and as if they have no friends.

"Hate crime, whether committed online or offline, is illegal. However, not all offensive content is illegal in the UK.

"For content that does not meet the threshold of a hate crime, the police are required to record it as a hate incident.

"The best way to protect your child from online hate and trolling is to take an active interest in how they socialise both on and offline. Having meaningful conversations with them to develop their critical thinking is also essential.

"It is also advisable to block the perpetrator of hate crime or bullying immediately, to report it to your child's school, to report online hate material to the website admin and to contact the police."