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Facebook is expanding its campaign to combat hate speech

Facebook is expanding its campaign to combat hate speech


Online Civil Courage Initiative provides advertising credits to groups that counteract messaging from terrorists and right-wing groups

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Facebook is expanding its efforts to combat online hate speech, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal. The company's Online Civil Courage Initiative, announced in January, will transition from a pilot phase to offer advertising credits and marketing advice to a wider range of groups that counteract extremist messaging. The Berlin-based program has so far focused its efforts on France, Germany, and the UK.

The announcement marks Facebook's latest effort to combat propaganda from terrorist organizations and far-right groups. Facebook, Twitter, Google, and other major web companies have faced increased pressure to escalate anti-hate speech campaigns, and to more swiftly remove propaganda from groups like ISIS and far-right extremists. While the companies have touted an increase in takedowns of extremist content, the Online Civil Courage Initiative is focused on so-called counter-messaging, which seeks to discredit hate speech and propaganda. A Google-funded study published over the summer found that such campaigns can be an effective means of sparking debate online.

"Censorship is not effective."

"Censorship is not effective," Erin Saltman, program manager for the Online Civil Courage Initiative, tells the Journal. "Conversations would start on mainstream platforms and migrate to less regulated, encrypted platforms."

Facebook tells the newspaper that since January, its initiative has provided €10,000 ($11,152) in advertising credits to help organizations reach more than 2 million people. The company has pledged more than €1 million in ad credits to the program over the next two years, and will create a standalone website for the initiative over the next year. The Online Civil Courage Initiative will also publish "trend reports where we can keep our finger on the pulse a little more and keep activists updated with trends that are taking place so they can react more in time," Saltman tells the Journal.

Growing concerns over online radicalization and resurgent far-right extremism have forced many tech companies to ramp up content moderation programs, which have so far largely relied on self-reporting mechanisms. In the second half of 2015, Facebook removed 38,000 pieces of content in the EU alone, at the request of EU governments, while Twitter has suspended 235,000 terrorist-linked accounts since February of this year.

Much of the global concern over extremist content has focused on propaganda from ISIS, which has used social media to radicalize people overseas. But a recent study from George Washington University found that white nationalist groups continue to thrive on Twitter, while Facebook has faced particularly harsh criticism from German authorities for not doing enough to police xenophobic hate speech from far-right nationalists. Jigsaw, Google's tech incubator and think tank, announced this month that it is expanding its own ad-based counter extremism program to focus on both potential ISIS recruits and white extremists in North America.

Other organizations have turned to automated forms of content removal, which would use algorithms to identify and remove extremist content as soon as it's uploaded to social media sites. Supporters say such methods would significantly curtail the online reach of groups like ISIS, but civil liberties groups have argued that the approach could curb free speech.