A German photographer has launched an online protest calling for Facebook to crack down on a recent surge in hate speech, arguing that the site is quicker to censor images of topless women than it is anti-migrant xenophobia. The photographer, Olli Waldhauer, posted a photo last week of a topless woman standing next to a man holding a racist sign. The man's sign reads "Don't Buy From Turks," combining a Nazi-era anti-Semitic slogan with a racist slur. A caption next to the photo reads: "One of these people is violating Facebook's rules," along with the hashtag #nippelstatthetze ("nipples instead of race-baiting").
In an interview with the AFP news agency, Waldhauer said he wanted to draw attention to what he sees as a double standard in Facebook's moderation policy. The site has come under increased criticism in Germany for not doing enough to combat racist and xenophobic comments directed toward the thousands of asylum seekers who have fled war-torn countries like Syria and Afghanistan. "I want Facebook to ban the picture not because of the nudity but because of the race-baiting," he said.
Sure enough, the photo was removed within two hours after Waldhauer posted it on Wednesday evening for violating Facebook's policy against nude images. (The original, uncensored version is embedded further down the page.) The photographer later shared it through WeTransfer, and it quickly went viral. Some versions of the uncensored photo are still visible on Facebook, while other users took more outlandish twists on the #nippelstatthetze hashtag. The AFP, citing media reports, says the photo has been shared more than 30,000 times.
German authorities have called for Facebook to more proactively monitor and remove hate speech on its platform, as the country faces an influx of migrants and refugees that has sparked xenophobic protests in some regions. Germany is expected to see more than 1 million migrants and refugees by the end of the year, more than any other European country. "Facebook users are, in particular, complaining increasingly that your company is not effectively stopping racist 'posts' and comments despite their pointing out concrete examples," Heiko Maas, Germany's minister of justice, wrote in a letter to the company in August.
In September, Facebook said it would work with German authorities and internet service providers to crack down on xenophobic content, though it has continued to face criticism. Bild, Germany's top-selling newspaper, ran a two-page spread last month with dozens of racist posts from Facebook users. The spread, which ran under the headline "The Pillory of Shame," called on the country's general prosecutor to launch an investigation.
A day before Bild published the page, prosecutors in Hamburg launched a probe to investigate a complaint that three Facebook managers facilitate hate speech by failing to remove vitriolic posts. The lawyer who filed the complaint pointed to more than 60 examples of hateful posts about refugees, including some that featured Nazi images and symbols.
While many would argue that Facebook has been slow to censor hate speech, the site has been notoriously quick to remove sexually explicit content, as Waldhauer's campaign demonstrates. But the company's idea of what constitutes explicit content has at times been broad and inconsistent, covering photos of breastfeeding mothers and 19th century paintings. (The site reversed its stance on breastfeeding in 2014.)
Speaking to the AFP, Waldhauer said he's pleased with how quickly his campaign caught fire: "I think it's great that so many people have uploaded the picture and shown that they don't want racist pictures on Facebook."
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