Germany on Tuesday announced that Google’s YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have agreed to its demands to remove hate speech appearing on their networks within 24 hours after a removal request has been made.
That follows a sharp increase in anti-foreigner statements on the Internet in Germany as refugees from the Middle East stream into the country.More than a million refugees reportedly have entered Germany this year.
The measures include best practice mechanisms that FSM, a nonprofit association dedicated to the protection of minors, and its members, including Google, have developed.
They will not impede freedom of speech, and all legitimate expressions of opinion, even if they’re objectionable, are protected, according to the agreement.
All measures to address hate speech must take human rights into account.
What the Agreement Entails
By mid-2016, Google, Facebook and Twitter will have to provide user-friendly mechanisms for the submission of removal requests. They will enforce their terms and conditions by reviewing specific reports of hateful content and incitement to violence under both their community guidelines, and German law, particularly Section 130 of the German criminal code.
When a removal request is received, dedicated teams at the companies have to review it. Most content must be reviewed within 24 hours and removed, if necessary.
The companies will be given access to German-speaking experts, if required, and they must have legal specialists on tap to provide any required legal analysis.
They must take appropriate action against users and content that violates locally applicable laws including, where warranted, removing the illegal content and suspending user accounts.
The companies must maintain and implement robust and transparent terms and conditions regarding how they address content that promotes hatred or incites violence, and encourage reporting and flagging at scale.
Setting a Precedent
“While we understand companies’ compliance with the law, this sets a bad precedent in that it likely implements systems that could be used by other governments with less noble intentions,” said Jillian York, director for international freedom of expression at theElectronic Frontier Foundation.
Such a ruling would not be acceptable in the United States, where hate speech is not illegal, she told TechNewsWorld.
Indeed, speech that could be considered hate speech — such as ananti-Muslim statementDonald Trump made earlier this month that was still available on YouTube at publication time — is disseminated widely in the U.S., under the aegis of freedom of expression.
The Companies’ Reactions
“There’s no place for content such as hate speech, incitement or glorification of violence on Facebook,” company spokesperson Tina Kulow said.
“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,” she told TechNewsWorld.
Facebook’s Hate Speech Saga
There’s nothing new in the agreement with Germany, Kulow said. “Many people already use our reporting tools to report hate speech, and we already do complete the review of the vast majority of these reports within 24 hours.”
However, Facebook reportedly hasdeclined to remove Trump’s anti-Muslim video from his Facebook page, on the grounds that it’s part of the political discourse, although it has begun deleting some posts expressing support for Trump’s stance.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg publicly expressedsupport for Muslims last week.
German authorities have been after Facebook for months to clamp down on hate speech. In September, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedlypressed Zuckerberg on the issue at a meeting at the United Nations.
Further, prosecutors in Hamburg have begun investigating Martin Ott, the head of Facebook’s German operations, over the company’s failure to delete posts with hateful content, Der Spiegel reported.
“To be really, really clear on the allegations mentioning … Martin, … there is no investigation,” Kulow asserted.
“Facebook is not commenting on the status of a possible investigation,” she said, “but we can say that the allegations lack merit and there has been no violation of German law by Facebook or its employees.”