Back in the day people used to blame video games and rap music when someone would commit an act of violence. It was such a stupid way to try to deflect, and eventually, I hope, people caught on to the ruse.
Now violence has a new scapegoat: social media.
Over the last few months companies like Facebook and Twitter have been called out by government officials, both here and abroad, and even been sued for, allegedly, not doing enough to stop groups like ISIS.
Facebook obviously does not want to find itself in that same position, justified or not, and so it's taking some additional steps to try to route out hate speech on its site, launching its "Initiative for Civil Courage Online" in Berlin on Monday, Reuters reports.
That includes the company pledging over 1 million euros (or $1.09 million) to support non-governmental organizations in their efforts to rid its platform of racist and xenophobic posts.
Though it does not say so specifically in the report, it seems likely that this is tied to an agreement made by Facebook, Google, Twitter in December to delete hate speech that violates German laws from their websites within 24 hours. The new agreement made it easier for users and anti-racism groups to report hate speech by creating specialist teams to deal with these incidents at the three companies.
That agreement was the result of an investigation into Facebook by the Germany government the month prior whether or not Facebook had failed to remove hate speech.
It's unclear what kind of speech Facebook will specifically be targeting with this new initiatives. Specifically, the recent rise in hate speech in Germany has been as a result of the Syrian refugee crisis, over a million of whom are set to be coming to the country in the coming year.
However there is another kind of hate speech, the kind attributed to terrorist groups like ISIS. A lawsuit filed last week accused Twutter of having "knowingly permitted the terrorist group ISIS to use its social network as a tool for spreading extremist propaganda, raising funds and attracting new recruits."
"Without Twitter, the explosive growth of ISIS over the last few years into the most feared terrorist group in the world would not have been possible," the suit says, alleging that, "Since first appearing on Twitter in 2010, ISIS accounts on Twitter have grown at an astonishing rate and, until recently, ISIS maintained official accounts on Twitter unfettered."
So is Facebook setting its sights on one or the other, or perhaps both? VatorNews reached out to the company for clarification and we will update this story if we learn more.
Of course all of this can become complicated for sites like Facebook and Twitter, as taking real action against such language may actually get them into trouble when it comes to free speech, and may anger their userbase if they feel as though they are being censored.
The companies themselves have to walk a tricky line between cracking down on hate speech and allowing their users to freely express themselves. Facebook, and Mark Zuckerberg specifically, has, in a way, been talking out of both sides of its mouth on this issue.
While at once he is voicing support of Muslims, telling them, "you are always welcome here and that we will fight to protect your rights and create a peaceful and safe environment for you," he has also defaulted to the "it's free speech" argument when confronted with hateful language used on Facebook.
"We're trying to connect everyone in the world and give everyone a voice," Zuckerberg said in a town hall meeting following the Charle Hebdo attacks in Paris in January. "This is about freedom of expression."
Zuckerberg wants to protect people from hateful language, while not going too far in censoring his users.
At least one prominent politician is on the side of censorship, though, as Hillary Clinton specifically askedsocial media to help the government with "depriving jihadists of virtual territory just as we work to deprive them of actual territory."
(Image source: dailyherald.com)