Facebook, Google and Twitter agree to German demand to delete hate speech within 24 hours

Facebook, Twitter, and Google have agreed with Germany and will delete hate speech from their services within 24 hours to fight a rising tide of online racism.

The flood of refugees into Germany has been tied to a deluge of racist and xenophobic hate-speech on social media that Facebook, for one, had been accused of allowing to linger online.

According to Reuters, German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said on Tuesday that the agreement should make it easier for users and anti-racism groups to report hate speech to teams that specialize in the area at the three companies.

Getting it down in one day should be doable, he said:

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. And we agree that as a rule this should be possible within 24 hours.

Under pressure from Germany, Facebook had already launched a hate-speech task force in September.

In fact, before it even sat down with Maas in September, the company had agreed to do three things in the wake of the previous month’s anti-immigration violence.

Namely, Facebook promised to:

  • Partner with FSM, a German self-regulatory group of multimedia service providers.
  • Start the hate speech task force, working with nonprofits, companies, and government officials, including Maas.
  • Establish a campaign to promote “counter speech” in Germany, drawing in experts from the UK and Scandinavia to develop ways to combat racism and xenophobia through discussions on social media.

In October, a German prosecutor launched an investigation into three Facebook managers for allegedly “ignoring racist posts.”

In November, Germany launched yet another, similar investigation, this one into European head of Facebook Martin Ott, Facebook’s managing director for northern, central and eastern Europe, who’s based in Hamburg.

The prosecution said last month that Ott may be held responsible for his employer’s failure to remove hate speech.

A Facebook spokesperson told Reuters that the allegations lack merit and that there’s been no violation of German law by Facebook or its employees.

Twitter, for its part, gave up a separate fight to protect racist users in July, agreeing to unmask posters of racist content on its French service when ordered by a Paris court to hand it over.

Maas told reporters on Tuesday that the deal with the three companies will ensure that the companies adhere to German law when policing hate speech, rather than their own internal policies.

Under German law, anyone who makes a public comment inciting hatred or violence against someone on ethnic or religious grounds can face up to three years in prison.

A Google spokesperson told Tech Crunch that the company’s on board with Germany’s approach to hate speech:

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

Image of hate on keyboard courtesy of Shutterstock.com