Facebook has launched a Europe-wide campaign to end hate speech and extremist posts on social media. The move came after German politicians complained about a rise in extremist and xenophobic comments on Facebook and other online platforms.
Facebook launched its Online Civil Courage Initiative (OCCI) in Berlin. It has promised to donate over one million euros to support non-governmental organisations working to stop racism and xenophobia online.
Special unit to monitor and delete extremist posts from Facebook
The US-based technology company has also hired a special unit to monitor and delete racist posts on its German platform. The initiative is supported by the German Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection, the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue, the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, one of Germany’s foremost, independent NGOs, and the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence.
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, said hate speech “has no place in our society”, including in the Internet. Facebook’s rules forbid bullying, harassment and threatening language but it has often been accused of not enforcing them.
More than one attack per day recorded against immigrant shelters in Germany
Concern about how racism and xenophobia is spreading via social media, especially Facebook, has been growing in Germany following several incidents at the end of last year. These included the appearance of mock gallows at an anti-immigrant rally, with labels indicating the nooses were intended for Angela Merkel and her deputy. Another mock gallows was erected close to a migrant shelter.
More than one attack per day against migrant shelters have been recorded since the summer when Germany’s government welcomed approximately one million refugees to the country.
Incitement against refugees is “horrifying and unacceptable”
Josef Schuster, the head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, recently noted that “the incitement against refugees has reached a level which is absolutely horrifying and completely unacceptable.”
Facebook in particular has been singled out for criticism. Prosecutors in Hamburg are reportedly investigating Facebook Germany for failing to remove xenophobic posts.
Reacting to accusations that they have been too slow to control the spread of hate speech and online racism via their platforms, Google, Facebook and Twitter last month agreed to delete extremist comments within 24 hours. The three companies have also promised to make it easier for the public and anti-racism groups to report hate speech.
When limits of Free Speech are being trespassed; content should be deleted from the net
Heiko Maas, Germany’s justice minister has backed the move: “When the limits of free speech are trespassed, when it is about criminal expressions, sedition, incitement to carry out criminal offences that threaten people, such content has to be deleted from the net,” Maas said. “And we agree that as a rule this should be possible within 24 hours.”
Is it too late to stop the hate speech online?
The recent events in Cologne, where immigrants were blamed for sexual attacks on hundreds of women on New Years Eve, sparked a new wave of racist and violent posts on social media. Facebook’s move has been welcomed, but some worry it may be too little, too late.