Facebook, Google and Twitter have agreed to delete hate speech, deemed illegal in Germany, within 24 hours.
The move follows pressure from German authorities concerned about the increasing volume of racist abuse being posted on social media sites.
The companies committed on Tuesday to removing “illegal content promptly, that is, within 24 hours,” said the Justice Minister Heiko Maas, adding that the new agreement makes it easier for users and anti-racism groups to report hate speech to specialist teams at the three companies
The justice minister stressed that the measures are not intended to curtail free speech, but rather to ensure German law is applied online.
The move follows pressure put on the US companies in Germany to take action after the number of xenophobic and racist comments has surged online. Concern escalated after the far-right began to take aim at the record number of refugees arriving in Germany this year, with Maas stating that social networks must not “become a funfair for the far-right.”
However, critics have slammed Maas, claiming he has failed to achieve what he set out to do when he announced the creation of a joint “taskforce” to fight hate speech.
“Maas has buckled in the face of Facebook and Co.,” Green party leader in the Bundestag (German parliament) Katrin Göring-Eckhardt told Spiegel Online. “[He] called far-right crimes shameful, but it’s almost exactly as shameful that his ministry is doing nothing against online hate.”
The justice minister had initially demanded that a German-speaking team be put together at Facebook, though there is no sign that the request will be met.
In addition, Facebook will not publish data on the numbers of messages it removes or the proportion of messages reported as abusive which were ultimately taken down – another of Maas’ original demands.
Germany has strict laws against the expression of racial hatred, a reaction to the country’s Nazi past.
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