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Yesterday, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandburg announced a new initiative to counter racist and xenophobic speech on social media. The Online Civil Courage Initiative(OCCI) is a partnership between Facebook, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, and the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence. This initiative is supported by the German Ministry of Justice.

Facebook has already pledged $1.09 million in funding towards OCCI. The initiative will focus on three main areas: funding NGOs already fighting online extremism, developing best practices for NGOs as well as other online services, and research into the roots of extremism and hate speech. In announcing the initiative, Sandberg stated, “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 convinced to better understand and respond to the challenges of extremist speech on the internet.”

This initiative is separate from, but working towards a similar goal, as another recent action by Facebook. Earlier in the month, the company announced that it was hiring the services of German company Bertelsmann to monitor the site and delete hate speech. Bertelsmann has at least 100 employees working on this task, and Facebook has a few of their own employees working on it as well. “Through this investment, Facebook wants to make sure that reports about content that may violate our community standards can be dealt with even more effectively,” a Facebook spokeswoman said.

Both actions by Facebook may be the result of increasing pressure by German authorities to clamp down on hate speech. The German government has been trying, without much success, to put a lid on the anti-refugee sentiment that is on the rise in the country, and has only gotten worse after the New Year’s Eve sexual assaults in Cologne. Last year many German politicians, including the German Minister of Justice, had called on Facebook to do more to combat hate speech on its platform. In November, prosecutors in Hamburg began an investigation to determine if Facebook was in compliance with the country’s hate speech laws.

Are Facebook’s new initiatives against hate speech a good thing? Leave your comments below.


Max Michael

Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.