The German government yesterday secured an agreement from Facebook, Google and Twitter to delete hate speech within 24 hours as it steps up efforts to combat racist sentiments being expressed online in the wake of the European refugee crisis.
Germany has agreed to accept hundreds of thousands of refugees, many of whom are fleeing ongoing civil war and the spread of ISIS in Syria. Conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan is also feeding the refugee crisis. The influx of migrants to Germany, which has agreed to take the largest number of refugees, has led to a rise in racist sentiments expressed via web platforms such as Facebook.
Reuters quotes German Justice Minister Heiko Maas saying that “criminal expressions, sedition, incitement to carry out criminal offences that threaten people” cross the boundaries of free speech and that such content “has to be deleted from the net”. As with many European countries, Germany has specific hate speech laws.
This September Facebook agreed to work with the German government to do more to combat hate speech on its platform in the wake of the refugee crisis. It also said it was intending to work with local organizations to do more to tackle the problem — and has partnered with a local Internet safety NGO, FSM.
However German prosecutors have also launched multiple investigations into Facebook managers over alleged failure to remove racists posts, including an investigation of its Hamburg-based European head which kicked off last month. Facebook has rebutted all these allegations as lacking merit.
It’s unclear whether Facebook, Google and Twitter will be increasing local moderation staff to comply with the requirement to delete hate speech within 24 hours. According to the BBC, “specialist teams” at each company will be used to assess complaints about hate speech to speed up removal of racist posts.
We’ve reached out to Facebook, Google and Twitter for more details and will update this story with any response. Update: A Facebook spokesperson said: “There’s no place for content such as hate speech, incitement or glorification of violence on Facebook. We urge people to use our reporting tools if they find content that they believe violates our standards so we can investigate and take swift action. We complete the review of the vast majority of reports within 24 hours.”
A Google spokesperson added: “We’re committed to working with Governments on this issue and work to review the majority of flagged content within 24 hours. YouTube’s policies have long prohibited hate speech and extremism, and we comply quickly with valid law enforcement requests.”