For years now, privacy advocates have warned that Facebook was growing too large and too powerful to be trusted. As a company, they are fully within their rights to devise whatever rules they like, but with an unprecedented level of access and influence in the world, critics wondered how long it would be before Mark Zuckerberg began exercising his enormous power.
In Europe, that day has arrived. Facebook launched a new campaign this week called the Initiative for Civil Courage Online. In partnership with the German government and several far-left nongovernmental organizations, Facebook plans to eliminate “hate speech” from its platform through three interrelated strategies. One, the company will spend more than $1 million to help NGOs fight online extremism; two, Facebook will work with the NGOs to develop best practices; and three, the social media conglomerate will fund academic research into the reasons people turn to hate speech.
COO Sheryl Sandberg said, “We have repeatedly emphasized that Facebook is no place for the dissemination of xenophobia, hate speech, or calls for violence. With this new initiative, we are committed to better understand and respond to the challenges of extremist speech on the internet.”
Now what is all this about? Refugees, of course. With hundreds of thousands of Syrians and North African Muslims pouring into Germany at the invitation of Chancellor Angela Merkel, the citizens watching their cities deteriorate are rightfully outraged. That pot came to a boil this month when refugees targeted hundreds of women on New Years’ Eve in Cologne for sexual harassment and assault. Rather than refute these concerns…or even listen to them…Merkel’s government has decided to simply label anti-immigrant discussion as “hate speech” and censor it. It’s much easier to win an argument, after all, when your critics are legally precluded from stating their case.
In December, Facebook joined Google and Twitter in an agreement to delete hate speech from their German sites within 24 hours of notification.
It’s sad that German officials feel that censorship is the path to progress. It’s sadder still that American companies are going along with it. But the saddest – and scariest – part is how much support this endeavor has in the U.S. media. Let’s see how Forbes put it:
As tensions grow, monitoring social networks in search of the first signs of trouble could indeed make sense. On the other hand, the border between expressing ‘extreme’ ideas and making use of your right to free speech could sometimes be pretty hard to draw. […] It’s a thin, thin line. But, for now, one can only applaud Facebook’s effort to make the Internet a more civilized place.
If the line is that thin, free speech should always be given the benefit of the doubt. They may believe that in Germany or not. But to see Americans come down on the side of censorship is enough to chill the blood. Rest assured, hate speech laws, much like Islamic terrorism, will not stay confined to the other side of the Atlantic.