National Contexts for hate speech


“There’s not a place for this kind of content on Facebook. Learning more about German culture and law has led us to change the approach” – Mark Zuckerberg speaking in Berlin 27, February 2016 on anti-Immigrant content. (BBC)

This confirms what we have reported previously about a new push towards national approaches to hate speech which take account of different countries cultures, norms and laws. Rather than seeing Facebook as its own large country that can do as it likes and set its own rules, the company is now more willing to take an appropriate local positions, at least in Germany where some of its senior staff live.

The discussion follows first moves to investigate criminal charges against Facebook executives for failing to do enough to prevent incitement to violence against immigrants, then a commitment by Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to take down content that breaches German law within 24 hours, and finally the launch of campaign by Facebook to counter hate speech in Europe.

While pushed into this position, Facebook is now making a serious effort not only to promote counter speech but also to remove hate. Zuckerberg’s words indicate the company has changed its approach and added anti-immigrant incitement to the list of things that simply won’t be tolerated on Facebook. Facebook’s position is significantly better than what we are seeing from Twitter. The position at Twitter seems to be acceptance to do the minimum required by law, grudgingly, while promoting the idea that the only solution to hate speech is more speech.  As previously discussed, this culture may be fatal to Twitter. It stands in sharp contrast to the position Facebook is taking where removal of hate speech and the promotion of counter speech are being pursued simultaneously.

As warned in 2010, the companies don’t take action themselves and insist on doing the minimum required by law, the law outside of the United States will respond. The US remains a special case due to the interpretation of the First Amendment which protects hate speech – a position other countries reject.

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