Facebook commits €1m to stop the online spread of hate speech in Europe

19 Jan 2016

Pictured at the Online Civic Courage Initiative launch in Berlin, from l-r: Sasha Havlicek (ISD), State Secretary Gerd Billen (German Ministry of Justice), Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook), Peter Neumann (ICSR) and Anetta Kahane (Amadeu Antonio Foundation). Photo via Facebook

Facebook has launched a Europe-wide campaign to curb the prevalence of hate speech, extremist comments and xenophobia online, pledging €1m to support the initiative.

The campaign, the Online Civil Courage Initiative (OCCI), was developed after German politicians and celebrities raised concerns with Facebook about a rise in xenophobic comments relating to the recent influx of refugees – some 1.1m during 2015 – into Europe.

The OCCI, according to its mission statement, “aims to combat online extremism and hate speech through better understanding and the ability to respond to the challenges of extremist speech on the internet”.

In addition to the pledged €1m – which will be funnelled to NGOs that are working to counter online extremism – the OCCI will seek to develop best practices that NGOs, governments and other online services can use to stop the spread of hate speech and extremist rhetoric before it starts.

The OCCI will also fund research into the root causes of that online rhetoric, in order to uncover the problem that needs to be addressed.

‘Love is louder than hate’

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg announced the launch of the OCCI – which took place in Berlin – with a photo posted to her own Facebook page and the comment, “hate speech has no place online – or in society”.

In the photo’s caption, Sandberg spoke with concern about the increase in apparent xenophobia online: “In the past year, we’ve seen millions of people come together online to support refugees and stand in solidarity with the victims of terror attacks. But we’ve also heard voices of hate growing louder.

“With extremism damaging lives and societies across the world, challenging those voices has never been more important.”

The OCCI has already started to crowd-source methods of solving the issue of online hate speech, sharing the hashtag #civilcourage as its rallying cry.

In one of the first posts on the group’s Facebook page, the OCCI said: “Take a moment to share your story or idea supporting counter speech, with the goal of combatting online extremism and hate speech. In order to make change, everyone needs to feel empowered to share their voice and exercise #civilcourage.”

The message was posted in English and German.

While, for now, the OCCI is focused on Europe, it is not hard to see that this could eventually become a global effort, as hateful rhetoric is by no means a Eurocentric concern.

The OCCI pulls together the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR), the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) and the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, working in partnership with Facebook. It is headquartered in Berlin.

Kirsty Tobin was careers editor at Silicon Republic