Despite the great lengths many Americans will go to protect their right to free speech, there are some lines that even Internet companies recognize cannot be crossed. Such is the case in Germany, where an influx of xenophobic and racist messages have recently flooded Facebook in response to the immigration crisis that is sweeping across Europe and making international headlines. Now, after the appearance of a barrage of venomous Facebook tirades aimed against refugees and migrants seeking asylum in Germany, the social media giant is finally taking a stance against such vitriol, and will be working alongside the German Justice Ministry to remove such content.
Following a meeting with Facebook leadership in Berlin, German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said, “The idea is to better identify content that is against the law and remove it faster from the Web.” The government agency will work with Facebook to create a task force whose purpose will be to determine whether certain content should be considered legal under freedom of speech or crosses over into dangerous territory. Moreover, Facebook unveiled further plans to fund campaigns that aim to counter hate speech in general, including counter-messages and anti-hate themes.
Still, Zuckerberg and company, who have maintained a relatively hard-line stance when it comes to protecting the right to free expression in the past, insist that they’re not setting a new precedent or expanding the kinds of content it will remove. In a statement, the company noted, “Facebook believes that the best way to address complex issues like hate speech on the Internet is for companies, NGOs, and politicians to work together sharing their expertise in different aspects of the problem.” Such experts include representatives from “Great Britain and the Nordics,” as Facebook believes that these countries “have great expertise on counter speech [and can] support organizations in Germany to even better use the platform for their initiatives and to enable them to fight against racism and xenophobia with the most possible impact.” After all, the last thing Facebook wants is for people to stop using their platform, even if they’re using it to spew hate.
Maas, however, is concerned that Facebook is quickly becoming a “a fun fair for the far right,” and hopes that measures combatting the problem will be implemented “from now to the end of the year, if possible.”
As Opposition Greens party co-chief Katrin Goering-Eckardt said a few days ago, even free speech “has its limits when it comes to agitation to commit violence, or sickening hate speech.”