Facebook, Twitter, and Google have reached agreement with the German Government over the appropriate response to tackle hate speech. The response is deletion, and the time frame is 24 hours from when it is reported. This is not a good will gesture from the companies, but like other major improvements in tackling hate speech, it follows a clash between the authority of government and the power of the large multinational social media companies.
Ultimately the social media companies control what occurs online, they set the rules and enforce them. The companies though must be run by real people living in a real world. They live within nation states and, despite their arguments to the contrary, are subjects to their laws. The German prosecutor’s initiation of a criminal case against Martin Ott, Facebook’s managing director for northern, central and eastern Europe, who lives in Germany, for personal criminal liability over Facebook’s failure to adequately handle hate speech, has triggered the latest change in approach.
New specialist teams have been appointed within each company to handle reports of hate speech from users and NGOs in Germany. The move sees management of hate speech shifting from the international sphere under universal rules, to the national sphere with more country specific approaches. It again highlights the nation states have a role to play in protecting their citizens in the online world, and that the companies despite their size, wealth, and power, ultimately are subject to the rule of law in each state in which they operate.
For Australia, the major dispute with the social media companies right now is not hate speech but taxation. The social media companies are making vast profits from advertising revenue, paid to them by Australian businesses, to advertise to the Australian public, yet the companies have managed to avoid paying tax on this revenue. This too will change in the future.
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