Facebook’s difficult decision: Censorship or free speech?

Facebook’s difficult decision: Censorship or free speech?

Germany’s Justice Minister, Heiko Maas, has called for Facebook to start banning hateful posts, or the social media site will no longer be allowed to do business in his country.


Maas sent a letter to Facebook’s public policy director, Richard Allan, requesting a meeting in September to discuss the complaints Maas has received over the site’s refusal to ban racist posts. Because of the First Amendment, Facebook has avoided banning these types of statuses and comments in the past. There may be freedom of speech in the United States, but hateful speech online and in public is against the law in Germany.


“Holocaust denial and inciting racial hatred are crimes in Germany, and it doesn’t matter if they’re posted on Facebook or uttered out in the public on the market square,” said Maas.       


Germany’s increasing complaints over Facebook’s policy is the result of refugee hate groups in the country. They haven’t just been vocal with their anti-immigrant message on Facebook, but they have also taken to the streets shouting, “Heil Hitler,” in protest of shelters taking in refugees. Should Facebook comply with Maas’s request, or would it cause problems for free speech?             


Although there is free speech in the United States, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t consequences for posting hateful material on social media websites. There have been many instances in the United States of people losing their jobs, sponsorships, or clients over posting offensive material online. Former Arizona Diamondbacks player Curt Schilling was recently suspended from ESPN’s Little League World Series coverage for tweeting an anti-Islam message. The image was of Adolf Hitler with the accompanying text: “it’s said that only 5-10 [percent] of Muslims are extremists. In 1940, only 7 [percent] of Germans were Nazis. How’d that go?”        



If websites like Facebook made it their policy to ban offensive material, it could help prevent the spread of hate speeches and protect users from risking their job over a single hate-filled status. However, taking away people’s ability to say what they want online is a very sensitive issue in the United States, and would likely cause a public backlash. The two countries’ differing laws and viewpoints puts Facebook in a difficult position.  


Facebook  has yet to respond publicly to Maas’s letter, since they likely need time to weigh their options and decide how to mitigate a possible PR disaster. Maas hasn’t given up and has stated that he doesn’t want to show tolerance to those that spread “racist propaganda” and that his people should pay special attention to their actions “in light of our German history.”


Should Facebook take down hateful posts? How would Americans respond to censorship on Facebook? Leave a comment or talk to me on Twitter @Karbowski_Devon.  


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