Facebook has begun a Europe-wide campaign to stop racist and extremist posts on its site. The social network launched the 'Initiative for Civil Courage Online' in Berlin, and has pledged to invest more than 1 million Euros ($1.09 million) to support non-government organizations that work to fight online hate speech.
The initiative, announced by company COO Sheryl Sandberg on Monday night, is supported by the German Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection, and is a partnership between Facebook, the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue, the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, and the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence.
"We have repeatedly emphasized that Facebook is no place for the dissemination of xenophobia, hate speech or calls for violence," Sandberg said. "With this new initiative, we are convinced to better understand and respond to the challenges of extremist speech on the internet."
The campaign will be mainly focused on the financial support of NGOs that already battle online extremism, building "best practices" for those groups, and academic research initiatives to understand the roots of extremism and hate speech.
Back in November last year, Germany launched an investigation into Facebook's alleged failure to remove "hate speech" from the site. The prosecution in the case said that the failure to remove the comments could be attributed to Martin Ott, managing director for northern, central and eastern Europe of Facebook.
In December, Facebook's German headquarters was vandalized, allegedly as a protest against the company's overpowering presence online. The day after the attack, Facebook, Google and Twitter all agreed to delete hate speech from each respective platform in Germany within 24 hours.
A growing number of racist posts have appeared on the German Facebook platform recently, many of which are anti-foreigner comments directed at the high number of refugees entering the country.The recent events of New Year's Eve in Cologne, where hundreds of women were sexually assaulted, allegedly by men of North African or Middle Eastern appearance, has exacerbated the problem.
While the initiative should be applauded, it has once again brought up the issue of freedom of speech online. The company faced similar accusations of censorship last month when CEO Mark Zuckerberg vowed to fight to protect Muslim rights on Facebook.
Meanwhile, anyone who wants to show support for the initiative can share stories and ideas on the official OCCI Facebook page by using the hashtag #civilcourage.
"The best cure for bad ideas are good ideas," Sandberg said. "The best remedy for hate is tolerance. Counter speech is incredibly strong --- and it takes time, energy and courage."