Facebook Unfriends Free Speech

Social media giant moves to censor users' comments in Germany

by Edmund Kozak | Updated 21 Jan 2016 at 7:11 AM

In a worrying development for free speech and the free exchange of ideas, Facebook has announced a Europeanwide initiative to combat so-called online extremism and “hate speech.”

The social media giant pledged to spend over $1 million on the new “Initiative for Civil Courage Online,” which it launched in Berlin in partnership with the German Ministry of Justice and other organizations. It has even hired a unit of publisher Bertelsmann to monitor and delete “racist” posts on its site in Germany.

But critics are concerned the initiative will be used to suppress the free speech of conservative and populist critics of the mass Muslim migration to Europe.

“It’s certainly a form of censorship,” said Nina Rosenwald, founder and president of the Gatestone Institute, a conservative think tank based in New York City. “The underlying problem with these initiatives is, who decides what is extremist speech and who should be censored?”

Most importantly, she added, “Who’s watching the watchers?”

In Germany and elsewhere in Europe, a person can face incitement charges for comments that create “hostile feelings” against a particular race, religion or ethnic group. But one cannot have an open and honest conversation about the effects of Muslim migration on Europe without creating hostile feelings against them. The thought of hordes of young men bringing with them terror attacks and mass rapes do not exactly create warm and fuzzy feelings in the hearts of Europeans.

“The people who are trying to warn Western civilization about what it may be doing to itself are the ones who end up getting penalized,” said Rosenwald.

Indeed, on the same day Facebook announced its new initiative, the United Kingdom's Parliament made a mockery of itself by holding a debate on whether to ban Donald Trump from entering the country for “hate speech.” The so-called “hate speech” in question was Trump’s Muslim immigration ban proposal.

There is no reason to think Facebook’s new initiative will be any more evenhanded in its monitoring of “extremism” than European governments are. One of the partners of the initiative is the left-leaning Amadeu Antonio Foundation, which works against “far-right extremism” and racism. Conspicuously, no organizations that specifically monitor Islamic or radical left-wing extremism were invited to take part in the initiative.

Facebook began working on the plan, in fact, only after German politicians voiced concerns over a rise in xenophobic comments linked to the mass influx of Muslim migrants that began in the late spring of 2015. In November, prosecutors in Hamburg actually launched an investigation into the social media company on the suspicion it wasn't doing enough to prevent the dissemination of hate speech.

If only German officials were as worried about the safety and well-being of young German women as they are with Muslim men’s feelings.

Facebook can’t even apply its own speech codes fairly, so the notion that it could apply European hate speech codes in an unbiased manner is highly questionable. The social media platform is notorious for its inability to follow its own corporate policy against extreme and hateful posts when it comes to Israel.

On Dec. 28, the Israel Law Center launched “The Big Facebook Experiment” in an attempt to prove that the social media giant has a measurable bias against Israel. The nongovernmental organization created two Facebook pages — one anti-Palestinian and one anti-Israeli — with equally extreme content and then reported them to Facebook for violating its user rules.

Within 24 hours, Facebook sent the NGO a message that the anti-Palestine page it reported had been closed down for “containing credible threat of violence” and violating Facebook’s “community standards.” The complaint about the anti-Israel page also received a reply from Facebook. This reply stated that the content was “not in violation of Facebook’s rules.”

“It’s cowardly when you don’t want to hear what people you disagree with want to say,” observed Rosenwald. “What Germany actually needs is precisely an open debate about what to do about migrants, not to stuff the issue under the carpet.”

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