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German police raid homes over Facebook hate speech

Operation targeted 60 people accused of posting far-right content to a private Facebook group

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Police in Germany carried out house raids across the nation on Wednesday, targeting people accused of posting hateful content on social media. In a press release, the country's federal police agency (Bundeskriminalamt, or BKA) said that the homes of around 60 people were searched on Wednesday, and that most of the suspects were accused of posting anti-Semitic, xenophobic, and other extremist messages. The operation was carried out across 14 provinces, involving 25 police departments, and around 40 legal investigations have been opened. This marks the first time that police have carried out nationwide raids over hateful content posted online, the BKA said.

Germany has seen a recent surge in online hate speech, fueled in part by the ongoing refugee crisis. The country accepted more than one million asylum-seekers last year, mostly from war-torn Syria and Iraq, sparking some far-right protests and xenophobic violence. A survey released by the Pew Research Center this week showed that six in 10 Germans link refugees to an increase in terrorism, and that the influx will harm the German economy.

"These words should not poison the social climate."

In response, German authorities have sought to crack down on hate speech on Facebook, Twitter, and other online platforms. Last year, Facebook formed a task force to more rapidly remove hateful content, after Germany's minister of justice accused the site of being too slow to censor such material. In December, Facebook, Twitter, and Google agreed to remove racist and xenophobic content within 24 hours, under an agreement with the German government.

In its press release, the BKA said that the operation carried out this week aims to combat a "strong rise in verbal radicalism." The suspects are accused of posting hateful content to a private Facebook group between July and November 2015.

"The action carried out today shows that the authorities are acting firmly against hate on the internet, which has grown considerably in the wake of the refugee situation," Holger Münch, head of the BKA, said in a statement. "Attacks on refugees are often the result of radicalization, which begins on social networks. These words should not poison the social climate."