Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Germany Moves to Clamp Down on Facebook Racism

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Germany Moves to Clamp Down on Facebook Racism

Article excerpt

As Europe's refugee crisis continues to intensify, German officials are hoping to stem a growing tide of racism and hate speech directed against the migrants online.

On Friday, German chancellor Angela Merkel said that social media sites such as Facebook bear some of the responsibility for the spread of racist and xenophobic posts.

"When people stir up sedition on social networks using their real name, it's not only the state that has to act, but also Facebook as a company should do something against these slogans," Ms. Merkel said in an interview with the newspaper Rheinische Post (Translation via Reuters.)

Now, the German government is trying to engage social media sites directly. Heiko Maas, the German justice minister, sent a letter last month to Facebook's European office in Dublin arguing that the site was not doing enough to prevent racist comments posted online. He also requested a meeting with Facebook officials, set to take place in Berlin on Monday, according to Mr. Maas' Twitter page:

.@fxgebhardt haben @facebook fur 14.9. eingeladen, Facebook hat auch zugesagt. Bin gespannt auf Diskussion.-- Heiko Maas (@HeikoMaas) September 11, 2015

Many users were receiving notifications that comments they reported as abusive did not violate Facebook's community standards, Maas wrote, according to the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. Facebook did not respond to requests for comment from the Monitor about how it moderates posts.

Noting that Facebook's community standards were often strictly enforced for images of nudity, Maas called the company's response a "farce," saying the site had a legal obligation to delete posts that incite hatred, a criminal offense in Germany.

His requests to delete offensive posts did not violate freedom of speech, Maas wrote, because "the Internet is not a lawless space where racist abuse and illegal posts can be allowed to flourish."

Racism and hate speech often flourish online because of the physical distance - and relative anonymity - provided by many websites and social platforms, researchers say.

"There's something about typing something to someone, rather than saying it to their face, that creates a certain kind of hate speech," says Jessie Daniels, a professor at the City University of New York's School of Public Health who has studied racism and white supremacist movements online.

Differing views of what constitutes free speech internationally may also play a role in Germany's efforts to limit hate speech online.

In Germany, professor Daniels says, debates about free speech intermingle with concern about the fate of migrants coming to the nation's borders, often fleeing violent conflicts in their home countries. By contrast, in the US, she notes, violent or threatening speech is often seen as protected by the First Amendment. …

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