Facebook, Google, and Twitter agree to halt hate speech in Germany

More than 1 million refugees escaping war and poverty have entered the country during the last year, while instances of hate speech have risen as well.  

Markus Schreiber/AP
Hundreds of migrants wait in a tent to continue their registration process at the central registration center for refugees and asylum seekers LaGeSo (Landesamt fuer Gesundheit und Soziales - State Office for Health and Social Affairs) in Berlin, Monday, Dec. 14, 2015.

Tech giants Google, Facebook, and Twitter all agreed recently to delete hate speech posted on their networks from Germany, according to government officials.

The German government has been applying pressure on Facebook and others to slow the escalation of racist comments made on social network sites, some illegal under German law, as more than 1 million refugees have flooded into the country in 2015, according to Reuters. 

Germany began an investigation into Facebook's policies on hate speech in November, with one politician accusing the company of immediately acting to delete nudity from its pages, but letting xenophobic remarks to remain, according to the BBC.

A Facebook spokesperson said this week reports of racist comments and other offensive language would now be reviewed within 24 hours, an about-face from statements made as recently as November when the company said some hate speech accusations “lack merit” and did not violate German law.

“There’s no place for content such as hate speech, incitement, or glorification of violence on Facebook,” read a statement released this week. “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.”

High-profile Germans, including politicians and entertainers, have called for a change to the policies. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also pressured Facebook to act quicker.

Under German law, public communications inciting violence against specific groups are punishable by up to three years in jail, The Verge reported.

A leading German newspaper recently took out a two-page ad criticizing a burst of comments appearing on social media sites and targeting immigrants with bigoted tirades from some of Facebook’s 27 million German users.

There's been an increase in anti-immigrant protests, along with attacks on shelters where refugees have been staying. One politician was wounded in a knife attack, reportedly motivated by her view that refugees should be accommodated.

According to Facebook’s listed policies, it considers hate speech to be “content that attacks people based on their actual or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or disease” while the company said it removes or disables accounts and sometime with law enforcement if there is “a genuine risk of physical harm or direct threat to public safety.”

Twitter and Google follow similar policies, though all three organizations largely rely on reports from users.

The agreement reached this week will simplify the process of reporting hate speech, German Justice Minster Heiko Maas told Reuters.

"When the limits of free speech are trespassed, when it is about criminal expressions, sedition, incitement to carry out criminal offenses that threaten people, such content has to be deleted from the net," Mr. Maas said. "And we agree that as a rule this should be possible within 24 hours."

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