Facebook has come under tremendous pressure in Germany to remove hate speech from its platform. In September, German Justice Minister Heiko Maas stated the German government is conducting a study to determine how best to deal with online hate speech, and that the government will decide in March whether legal action should be taken against Facebook and other social media platforms. The German state of Bavaria has no interest in waiting around for the federal government to take action and has launched its own investigation into Facebook.
The investigation began when a Bavarian lawyer, Chan-jo Jun, reported the social media platform to police. The complaint accused the company of allowing racism, Holocaust denial, and violent threats to remain on the site even after they were reported. Jun has compiled a list of 438 posts that were flagged by users but were not removed. Reuters describes the posts by stating, “They include what some might consider merely angry political rants but also clear examples of racist hate speech and calls to violence laced with references to Nazi-era genocide.”
The investigation targets Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, COO Sheryl Sandberg, European Policy Director Richard Allen, the head of the Berlin office Eva-Maria Kirschsieper, and several other managers. The Bavarian prosecutors must not only find evidence proving Facebook executives have broken German law, but also determine if the offense falls under their jurisdiction. Prosecutors in Hamburg dismissed a similar complaint by Jun earlier in the year on jurisdictional grounds, because Facebook’s European operations were based in Ireland.
A statement from Jun’s law firm suggests that this complaint may have more luck than the one in Hamburg because “There is a different view in Bavaria.” The Bavarian Justice Minister Winfried Bausback responded to Jun’s request for comment and said that German law would apply to some of the offenses. However, Facebook insisted that it has not broken German law. The company issued a statement saying, “We are not commenting on the status of a possible investigation but we can say that the allegations lack merit and there has been no violation of German law by Facebook or its employees.”
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