- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Facebook, Twitter and Google all said this week that they’ll implement new measures in Germany to make sure content considered to be hate speech is erased within 24 hours of being brought to their attention.

“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,” Heiko Maas, Germany’s minister of justice, told reporters on Tuesday. “And we agree that as a rule, this should be possible within 24 hours.”

Amid fear that social media would “become a funfair for the far right,” Mr. Maas asked the U.S.-headquartered Internet companies to ramp-up their own policing efforts as Germany welcomes more than one million refugees within its border in 2016 and, as Reuters reported, witnesses a subsequent surge in racism.

Mr. Maas sent a letter in August to Richard Allan, Facebook’s European public policy director, urging the world’s leading social networking service to do a better job of removing offensive content or else risk being held responsible.

“Facebook users are, in particular, complaining increasingly that your company is not effectively stopping racist ‘posts’ and comments despite their pointing out concrete examples,” he warned at the time, raising elsewhere in his letter that “photos of certain body parts are automatically deleted because of moral concerns, yet racist and xenophobic statements aren’t immediately removed.”

Although Facebook originally responded by saying the “the allegations lack merit and there has been no violation of German law by Facebook or its employees,” the Menlo Park company said in a statement this week that it plans to adhere to the new 24-hour time limit — a measure Mr. Maas said will make it easier for social media users and anti-racism groups to have their complaints heard and heeded by “specialist teams” working on behalf of the companies.

“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 spokesperson for Facebook told Tech Crunch.

“We’re committed to working with governments on this issue and work to review the majority of flagged content within 24 hours,” added a representative with Google. “YouTube’s policies have long prohibited hate speech and extremism, and we comply quickly with valid law enforcement requests.”

Mr. Maas said that social media companies will follow German law in lieu of their own internal policies when considering user complaints, The Verge reported, in turn potentially opening up users who incite violence against ethnic or religious groups over the Internet to prison terms.

Racially-charged social media posts have caused a stir in Germany as of late amid the refugee influx, prompting Chancellor Angela Merkel in September to personally appeal to Facebook for help.

“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 [people],” she said
 

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