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German justice minister tells Facebook to take racism more seriously

German justice minister tells Facebook to take racism more seriously

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Germany's minister of justice and consumer protection is urging Facebook to respond more proactively to racist material, as the country faces anti-refugee protests and violence. Bloomberg, Reuters, Der Tagesspiegel, and other news outlets have obtained a letter sent by minister Heiko Maas to Facebook's European public policy director Richard Allan, alleging that the company has failed to listen to users who flag hate speech.

"Facebook users are, in particular, complaining increasingly that your company is not effectively stopping racist 'posts' and comments despite their pointing out concrete examples," Reuters quotes from the letter. Maas apparently took issue with users reporting boilerplate responses from Facebook, telling them that the content didn't violate community standards but not providing more concrete reasons. Maas unfavorably compared Facebook's strict policy against sexual imagery with its lighter standards against hate speech, saying that "photos of certain body parts are automatically deleted because of moral concerns, yet racist and xenophobic statements aren’t immediately removed."

"Photos of certain body parts are automatically deleted ... yet racist and xenophobic statements aren't immediately removed."

Facebook's community standards ban hate speech, which it defines as "content that directly attacks people based on their race; ethnicity; national origin; religious affiliation; sexual orientation; sex, gender, or gender identity; or serious disabilities or diseases." It may make exceptions for people sharing examples of hate speech in critique, or for "humor, satire, or social commentary related to these topics."

The justice minister's complaint comes shortly after riots broke out during neo-Nazi protests of a refugee shelter, and this year has seen a string of arson attacks at other refugee housing locations. German chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the riots earlier this week, calling them "shameful and appalling."

Maas has requested a meeting with Facebook on September 14th in Berlin to talk about potential future action. In a statement to Reuters, a Facebook spokesperson said the company was open to a meeting. "There is no room for racism on Facebook," the statement reads in part. "That kind of content violates our community standards and we appeal to people not to use our platform for the spread of hatred."