In an ironic move, Facebook launched a campaign “Online Civil Courage Initiative” in Europe to counter online hate yesterday.

The initiative is only Europe wide and was launched in Berlin. Facebook has pledged to make over 1 million Euros available to European NGOs to fight online extremism across the continent. It will also be bringing together experts on tackling violent extremism to develop best practices that it will share with NGOs, governments and other online services. It will also be building tools to help NGOs with counter speech. The initiative also plans to help research work in the field on online hate.

Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, who was present at the launch said that “Hate speech has no place in our society, not even on the Internet,” and that “Facebook is not a place for the dissemination of hate speech or incitement to violence.”

It is worth noting that Facebook hasn’t launched this campaign on its own accord. It is the result of sustained pressure put on it by the German government regarding the use of the platform to spread hate and xenophobia against the Syrian refugees arriving into Europe, and Germany in particular. Facebook was specifically criticised for its poor, delayed and inaccurate response to reports of hate speech to the platform’s reporting system. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel confronted Mark Zuckerberg directly on the issue last September. Late in November, a German prosecutor brought criminal charges against Facebook’s Managing Director in Germany for non-removal of racist speech.

In response, Facebook (and Twitter and Google) reached an agreement with the German government to remove all hate speech within 24 hours of it being reported in Germany. It has also partnered with a German media company Bertelsmann unit Arvato, which has hired at least 100 people to work with Facebook’s existing forces and monitor posts made on the site. Partnering with a local company will help examine the reports from a local German perspective, inkeeping with Germany’s history, culture, law and political context.

As we discussed in a previous post, Facebook’s turnaround on hate speech shows the power that national governments can exercise power over global technology companies. They can be made to tackle online hate within local cultural contexts more seriously. But to do that, we have to share our experiences with the government, mark our protest with them, and build a case for them to tackle the issue of online hate on social media. Germany has paved the way for the rest of the world. It is Australia’s turn next.

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