Is Facebook Doing Enough to Protect It’s Users from Hate Speech?


When an far-right Facebook group published a post on Facebook listing the names and addresses of Jewish businesses and institutions in Berlin (under the words “Jews Among Us”), Yorai Feinberg found himself the target of anti-semitic trollers, The New York Times reported.

Since the post was published on social media—on Nov. 9, the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht no less—Feinberg, a 35-year-old Israeli who owns a restaurant in Berlin received online threats and anonymous phone calls saying, “I hate Jews.” For Feinberg, this was not the first time he was targeted as a result of social media incitement.

“I have reported things to Facebook at least 20 times,” Feinberg told the NY Times. “And 100 percent of the time, they have refused to take it down. Facebook doesn’t do anything.”

So this time he didn't bother reporting the post to Facebook.

Facebook’s response to incitement speech has often been criticised as inadequate, and following the publication of the map, German authorities became deadlocked with Facebook over removal of the post. Germany has strict regulations over what can published online and has previously made attempts to prosecute Facebook’s creator, Mark Zuckerberg, for not sufficiently going after inappropriate or hate speech on the social media site, The Times explained.

Facebook initially said the disputed post appropriately followed the website’s guidelines of what constitutes as free speech. But following backlash on social media and news outlets, Facebook deleted the far-right’s entire page, including the post containing a map of Berlin’s Jewish businesses. It took 48 hours for the post to be deleted.

“It was hate speech, and it should have been taken down,” said Richard Allen, Facebook’s director of policy in Europe to the Times. “We’ve done more than any other service at trying to get on top of hate speech on our platform,” Mr. Allen said.

In 2015, in response to pressure from Germany, Facebook updated their global community standards and agreed to work with government and local establishments to fight hate speech. The social media site even hired technicians in Berlin to surveil and delete any hateful content published on the website. But German authorities are still pushing for stronger regulations and quicker deletions.

After one of the most historic presidential elections in the United States, Facebook has come under fire for allowing fake news and false reports to be published on their site during the campaign, which Zuckerberg denies had any influence on voters. In a post on Nov. 12, Zuckerberg wrote, “more than 99% of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes.”

A week later, on Nov. 19, the chief executive posted to Facebook, “We believe in giving people a voice, which means erring on the side of letting people share what they want whenever possible. We need to be careful not to discourage sharing of opinions or to mistakenly restrict accurate content.”

In addition, he outlined parts of a plan to stop false reports from Facebook in the future, including stronger detection of false information, third party verification services, easier reporting of posts, and warning labels on inaccurate articles. “The problems here are complex, both technically and philosophically,” he wrote.

Following the results of the election and President-elect Trump’s appointment of Stephen K. Bannon, a former leader of alt-right and Breitbart News, as his chief White House strategist, the alt-right term has come under heavy scrutiny. The movement, whose ideologies of racism, anti-Semitism, and white supremacy, has been highly criticised for being considered by many news outlets as, “a small, far-right movement that seeks a whites-only state,” wrote the New York Times.

On Monday, The Associated Press in response to the reaction, published new guidelines specifically surrounding the term “alt-right.” They state that journalists should always define the term when using it, because “it is not well known and the term may exist primarily as a public-relations device to make its supporters’ actual beliefs less clear and more acceptable to a broader audience."