Facebook and the Refugee Crisis

Facebook and the Refugee Crisis

The refugee crisis in Europe has dominated the headlines. Thanks to years of civil war in Syria, countless refugees are flooding into Europe. Germany has agreed to take in up to 800,000 Syrian refugees. What does this have to do with anything technology?

Facebook leaders are helping out…somewhat. They’re working with the German government to silence hate speech and xenophobic comments. Facebook leaders, the German justice ministry, ISP’s, other organizations, governments and businesses form a task force to delete hateful comments toward these incoming refugees. Facebook is expected to team up with German financial institutions to track hate speech. Germany promised to take in more refugees from war torn Syria, and some from war torn Afghanistan, than any nation on Earth. But last month, Germany’s Justice Ministry Secretary Heiko Mass criticized Facebook for not doing enough to combat hate speech. Some are even bracing for xenophobic riots. In Hungary for example, the border has been closed to migrants. There’s been tension in other parts of Europe as well. According to German law, comments, whether spoken by word or through computer, that incite violence, especially against another race or ethnicity, can land someone up to three years in prison. No Facebook leader or representative have commented on this initiative.

I somewhat get where Heiko Mass is coming from. These incoming refugees should be treated with dignity and respect. They’ve already been through war and violence. They don’t need to endure bullying and trolling. But these efforts sound more like Orwellian/Big Brother than protecting refugees.  What will they consider offensive? What if someone makes a great case on Facebook against bringing in so many refugees? Is that offensive? Will that person be thrown into prison? It should never be any government or online company’s place to determine what is offensive or hateful and what isn’t. We live in a time where phrases as innocent as, “nice dress”, or “you look nice today” can be called offensive. What Mass and other leaders should do is urge and encourage tolerance of these refugees. Run commercials urging and educating people to do the right thing. But the way Facebook and the German government are handling this, they’re crossing a line that shouldn’t be crossed. Do you think this initiative is protection or censorship?

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