Facebook is putting its blue and white foot down when it comes to extremism and hate speech in Europe.
The social network launched on Monday in Berlin its Online Civil Courage Initiative, which is designed to stamp out hateful rhetoric within its own walls, as well as influence the wider Internet. Facebook has poured 1 million euros ($1.01 million) into the initiative, which will be used in part to support European non-government organizations fighting online extremism.
It's no coincidence that the initiative was launched in Berlin. German politicians have expressed concern over an increase in xenophobia in the country, much of it related to the recent influx of Syrian refugees. Facebook's move, likewise, comes after a recent proliferation of hate-filled posts targeting Muslims amid the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis and particularly since the November attacks in Paris by Islamic terrorists that killed 130 people.
Menlo Park, California-based Facebook has decided to outsource part of its effort to publisher Bertelsmann, which will identify and delete racist posts on Facebook that originate in Germany.
"Hate speech has no place in our society, not even on the Internet," Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said in a statement. "The best remedy for hate is tolerance. Counter speech is incredibly strong, and it takes time, energy and courage."
Sandberg's comments echo the sentiments expressed by Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg following the Paris attacks. "If you're a Muslim in this community, as the leader of Facebook I want you to know that you are always welcome here and that we will fight to protect your rights and create a peaceful and safe environment for you," he said in a Facebook post.
Beyond NGOs, the campaign will work with government, academic and other online services to develop ways to thwart extremism across the Internet more widely. With moderation tools stretched to their limits and few services able to commit as many resources to eliminating hate speech as Facebook, the consensus among experts is that other techniques must be developed.
"Virtually all experts are agreed that to remove content at best represents a part of the solution to the problem of online extremism and hate speech," Professor Peter Neumann of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence said in a statement. "Equally important are the support of counter speech, the promotion of grassroots movements that fight extremist views, as well as an empirically-sound understanding of how and when online incurred remarks lead to real violence."
Building people's confidence so that they are willing to counter hate speech is essential to tackling Islamophobia, said a spokeswoman for Tell Mama, a UK group that tracks anti-Muslim attacks. "We welcome this step and also note that Facebook is moving forward in many ways in trying to tackle hate online," she said in a statement.