Social media in Germany combating hateful speech

December 28, 2015 by Andre Oboler
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At one time Germany was the origin of racist hate speech which spread across the globe. Not just speech, but speech which turned into action and fed the flames. It’s no coincidence that today the Federal Republic of Germany has some of the strongest laws against hate speech in the world, and prosecutors who are unafraid to use them, even on some of the largest companies in the world.

Dr Andre Oboler

Dr Andre Oboler

In September Germany’s Justice Minister, Heiko Maas, called on social media companies to do more to combat hateful speech about refugees. The law in Germany has criminal sanctions not just for Holocaust denial, but for incitement to violence against any group of people on the basis of either ethnicity or religion. Maas called for more to be done to “better identify content that is against the law and remove it faster”.

It was the laws of Germany which a small group of us used to create a radical change in the social media world back in 2008. Until then companies like Facebook were facilitating the spread of Holocaust denial in all countries around the world. After a significant campaign we led to challenge them, they agreed it was possible to regulate social media content on a country by country basis, and therefore to comply with national laws like Germany’s ban on the denial of the Holocaust.

The companies pushed back, removing the explicit requirement to comply with local laws from their terms of service even as they began to obey the law in Germany. They simplified their terms of service and removed the explicit ban on content that was “derogatory,” “demeaning,” “harmful,” “defamatory,” “abusive,” “inflammatory” or “racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable.” Nevertheless, the US position on free speech, which since 1977 has gone so far as to protect the right of fascists in Nazi uniform to march through a town where one in six people were Holocaust survivors, now gives way to the law of the land in other countries.

In 2015 around a million refugees, largely from Syria, have arrived in Germany. While most Germans are supportive, seeing this as something that has to be done, Germany’s neo-Nazis are promoting xenophobia, spreading hate against refugees and Muslims in general. The hate has fuelled violent riots where calls of “heil Hitler” are mixed with “foreigners out”. There have been 576 attacks on refugees in Germany in the year to October, more than double that in the entire previous year.

The pressure from the German State was increased in November as the public prosecutor launched a criminal investigation against Facebook’s Managing Director Northern, Central and Eastern Europe, Martin Ott, for personal liability for Facebook’s failure to remove hate speech. The move was again directly linked to the spread of violence against refugees.

In the middle of November Facebook, Google and Twitter responded with concessions to the German government. The companies have each agreed to set up specialist review units in Germany to assess reports of hate speech. Given the context, the primary focus will be on anti-refugee sentiment, and specifically on ensuring faster compliance with existing German criminal law. The companies have agreed that 24 hours is an acceptable time frame in which to remove hate speech.

The move is a further significant shift away from global governance by the social media companies, based on their own values, but on conformance with national laws and the will of the people as expressed through their elected governments. This is not a good will gesture, but a means for the companies to protect themselves from liability. It is change long overdue, and one I first raised in a paper on new forms of regulation for social media back in 2010.

Outside of Germany, the onus is now on Governments to strengthen laws against hate speech so there is a basis on which to enforce their national sovereignty and demand local action and local review teams by the social media companies. Once laws are in place, other countries too can look at penalties where companies like Facebook, Google (including YouTube) and Twitter fail to remove content in reasonable time.

The Online Hate Prevention Institute, as Australia’s only specialist harm prevention charity focused on the problem of online hate, has been monitoring the problem and developing new tools and systems over the last four years. On Holocaust Memorial Day, January 27th 2016, together with the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Department for Combating Antisemitism, we will be releasing a new report with a scorecard on how the social media companies are doing at responding to reports made to them by the public. We presented a preview at the United Nations in New York in early December. In March we will release a similar report looking at anti-Muslim hate, an interim report into anti-Muslim hate was released earlier this month for International Human Rights Day.

The approach of the Online Hate Prevention Institute is unique. It is powered by, an advanced online reporting tool we have built in-house. The tool has been praised by UNESCO, endorsed by the Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism and supported by a wide range of community organisations. Using a simple process and a single click to register and login, it takes reports from the public and allows us to track how the companies respond. We can see what they take down, and how long it takes them. We can see what they fail to take down. We can also see the volume of hate and its “flavour” as it changes over time. Since the software was launched a year ago over 5,000 reports have been and over 4,000 different items of hate identified.

As the consensus for stronger action against online hate grows, the Online Hate Prevention Institute is proud to be working on the next generation of tools both to tackle the hate and to enable compliance monitoring which will surely follow. We’re please to have recently received funding from the Victorian Government to support our work, and are currently in talks with a number of donors about taking this to the next level. There is a need for drastic action on online hate, and here in Australia we are doing more than talking about it, we’re leading the way and everyone is invited to be a part of that, whether it’s by funding this critical work through tax-deductible donations, or reporting the hate you see online.

Let’s move beyond words and take real action. The push in Germany may be about Syrian refugees, but with a little effort, support and cooperation, it can change the landscape in the fight against hate.

Dr Andre Oboler isCEO of the Online Hate Prevention Institute and Co-Chair of the Online Antisemitism Working Group of the Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism


The actions of the German Government have not escaped the notice of  Australia’s B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC). It has called on Facebook, Google and Twitter in Australia to implement the policy they have agreed to institute in Germany, in which hate speech will be deleted from their websites within 24 hours. This measure signifies  a new step in the fight against online racism and will make it easier for users and groups fighting bigotry and prejudice to report hate speech to specialist teams at the companies and to have that content speedily removed.

Dr Dvir Abramovich, Chairman of the ADC, issued the following statement: “The escalation of cyber-hatred, and the proliferation of extremist websites that flow unchallenged is a cause of growing concern for the ADC. The internet, with its tremendous global reach and scope, has become the prime distribution and marketing platform of choice for racists and terrorists who exploit it to get their dangerous messages out instantaneously, anonymously and inexpensively.

Facebook, Google and Twitter should not allow their platforms to be used  by hate-mongers, white supremacists, and terrorists to spread their propaganda virally, recruit members, and foster self-radicalization. We call on the three companies to exercise their good judgement and to remove, within 24 hours, those pages.

We concur with the words of German Justice Minister Heiko Maas who said that, “When the limits of free speech are trespassed, when it is about criminal expressions, sedition, incitement to carry out criminal offenses that threaten people, such content has to be deleted from the net. And we agree that as a rule this should be possible within 24 hours.”  Hate-filled pages and websites clearly violate the companies’ values and standards, and by failing to remove them speedily, they are contributing to the social acceptability of prejudice, the promotion of violence and vilification.”


14 Responses to “Social media in Germany combating hateful speech”
  1. David Lee says:

    Perhaps the author’s credibility can be seen in light of his completely ridiculous comment, since proven to be false, that most of the refugees are Syrian. Recent credible reports put the number of non-Syrians at up to 80%.
    More damning to this authors lack of credibility is his assertion that most Germans are supportive of Angela Merkel’s opening the floodgates to a foreign invasion. This is plainly and without question completely false. The simple and undeniable fact is that most Germans view this invasion with not just great scepticism, but a deep and justifiable sense of fear and trepidation. The demonising of the average German person who joins a anti-invasion March or movement as being a neo-Nazi is a classic, predictable and completely dishonest ploy used by those that wish to stifle free and informed debate.

  2. Henry Herzog says:

    Why can’t I post any comments from my iPad?

  3. Kevin Charles Herbert says:

    The above comments conveniently overlook the elephant in the room, which is that in 2015, anti-zionism is not considered to be anti-semitism, particularly among under 40’s Jews.

    Justice seeking Jewish organisations globally e.g. JVP, Muzzlewatch, Not in My Name et al, have been publicising this crucial point continuously over the past decade – with great success.

  4. LIZZIE MOORE says:

    I feel proud as an Australian, that we have such an organisation and plan to donate to it. For about the last 10 years, professionals in my age bracket have been perfectly aware of the mass of atrocious stuff online but largely felt: “what can be done, its the internet, how can it be properly policed, its going to be next to impossible.” Well now we are showing in Australia, that this does not need to be the fact, at all. An amazing Australian achievement and I would like to see a copy of this article given to every school student in Oz. Certainly I am beaming it to all I know, including my sister in Israel and her friends. All praise to you Henry, for publishing this article on jwire Oz! Shalom, Lizzie via Bendigo.

  5. James Cohen says:

    Great example of whole cloth invention here. A closer look reveals that Nazi Germany did have harsh speech laws which did more good to the Nazi cause than harm. Looking again at Germany and Austria, we see that these similar laws are being selectively enforced in favour of criticism of an ideology, doctrine and dogma which are at core, antisemitic and genocidally so Muslims pray every day at least once for victory over the Jews. This is protected under religious freedom while criticism of the doctrine, a foundational principle of democracy, is rapidly being criminalized in accordance with UN resolution 16/18. This will not protect attacks on Jews which is nearly always genuine racism as it rarely if ever deals with Jewish scripture or law, but will protect legitimate and even true criticism of Islamic ideology.

    Yes, US 1st amendment rights allowed a Nazi march through a Jewish area once. And that is how it should be if you do not want a genuine Nazi movement to appear. You must let these ideas out as ideas as messy as that is and let truth be the deciding factor. Suppressing freedom of speech, especially but not limited to when that speech is true, never works out in the public interest and is in itself a preemptive crushing of democracy.

    One cannot make decisions in ones own interest if you cannot access information in order to do so. Controlling access to information to control what decisions people make is totalitarian and as unacceptable as any Nazi movement.

  6. Ron Jontof-Hutter says:

    While Germany does have anti-hate laws, including Holocaust denial, the situation is actually quite fluid. The Bundestag commissioned Longerich Report on anti-Semitism in 2012 which showed that significant young Germans harboured anti-Semitic views has just gathered dust. Holocaust inversion or distortion is not uncommon.I have seen school text books describing the security barrier without context as to why: 8 year old kids had to also make a papiere mache (Israeli) wall as a project. I have also witnessed the annual Iranian sponsored Al Quds parade in Berlin, where they chant “Death to Israel.” The German govt consistently refuses to ban this event.Last year a visiting Danish Imam in Berlin, incited his congregation to go out and kill Jews. After a week of protests by the Jewish community, the govt half heartedly condemned it. Recently he received a $1500 fine for that. Crude anti-Semitic cartoons appear from time to time in prestigious newspapers like Sueddeutsche Zeitung, where Israel was compared to Moloch for instance.In Wuppertal an Arab was exonerated by a court for throwing a fire bomb at a synagogue. It was deemed a legitimate protest against Israel.In Cologne a prominently publicly displayed Jewish stereotype gorging on Arab kids on a plate, with a glass of blood beside him, was deemed not to be anti-Semitic. Unlike Australia and Canada, Germany almost never votes with Israel at the UN. People like Barenboim supporting “resistance” and BDS against Israel receive prestigious peace prizes, as do Felicja Langer who openly supports terror against Israel. Judith Butler , guest lecturer at the Berlin Jewish Museum supports Hamas.The EU inexplicably dropped its definition of anti-Semitism in 2013. Despite assurances, it was never renewed. Germany also supports the labelling of all ‘occupation’ products, despite no EU law to do so. Israel is often compared to the Nazis, Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto, and Palestinians the “new Jews”- but you may not give a Hitler salute!! The situation is, that back door anti-Semitism is rife.It is more complicated than is realised. Anti-Semitism and hatred against the Jewish state are differentiated-with a wink. Without a definition of anti-Semitism, it means what you want it to mean. See my article “Whither Germany?” in the Times of Israel some months ago.

    • LIZZIE MOORE says:

      “While Germany does have anti-hate laws, including Holocaust denial, the situation is actually quite fluid. The Bundestag commissioned Longerich Report on anti-Semitism, in 2012, which showed that significant young Germans harboured anti-Semitic views, has just gathered dust.” ~~~ Thank you for this contribution Ron. I am studying it up and it is extremely disturbing and obviously very consciouness-raising. Todah! Lizzie via Bendigo

  7. Michael Burd says:

    With due respect Mr Oboler you can save the spin .
    Most of the organizations you speak of do no specifically deal with anti Semitism except for
    the ADC some issues cross over when dealing with anti Israel activities.
    You have convienently ignored the substance of my questions so I will
    Set them out easy for you to respond and hopefully you can answer without any further spin.
    1. Why do you feel a Jewish organization needs to concern them selves about alleged Muslim hate .
    2. With limited resources how can you monitor and expose both anti Semitism and alged anti Muslim
    hatred and fo a proper job of both .
    3. Can you name any Australian Muslim or Arab organizations that monitor and concern them selves about anti – Semitism .
    B Do you have any evidence to show us that there are Muslim community members that are concerned about anti Semitism
    4. Do you feel this type of work you do should be reciprocal amongst the
    Muslim Arab community or are you satisfied that they are not as bothered about Jewish
    Human rights
    B.Do you feel the Jewish community are the moraly superior and so our duty to look after the Muslim community interests because they are not capable ?
    5 Who funds your organization
    6 . Do any funds or support come from any Muslim or Arab organizations or groups

    7 It appears you have close ties or dialogue with the Muslim communal leadership can you give us any specific measures they gave instigated to stop any of their own from endangering Jewish community members.

    I await your response.

    • Joe.Silver says:

      Michael, I would hope that Mr Oboler does not shirk your request to declare accountability for OHPI’s activities.
      I suspect that the OHPI has falling into the cesspit of moral equivalence and does as much or even more to deal with alleged anti-Muslim hate as it does with anti-Semitism.
      Moreover I also suspect that funding for OHPI predominantly comes from Jewish benefactors, who have been conned into believing that supporting Muslim causes is in our community’s best interests.

  8. victorberger says:

    I congratulate Dr. Oboler. There will be detractors about everything. that should not discourage.
    I find that the vast majority of our folk are too caught up in being hyper intellectual and show scant appreciation of the manner in which our message must be transmitted to penetrate the short interest span of, especially, the non Jewish audience. Too much self interest inversely is met with increased shorter interest. I am not suggesting ingenuineness in care for anti-others however most of the audience scrutinizes for our position on discrimination of others.
    We currently have for some months had the opportunity to express support for those persecuted in the Arab countries and to illustrate to the world the gross hypocracy
    of the persecutors when they indiscriminately kill and oppress their own and Israel cannot be blamed.

  9. Andre Oboler says:

    Thank you for your comment Anonymous.

    We thankfully have many wonderful organisations tackling Antisemitism both in Australia generally and in Melbourne in particular. The most significant work on antisemitism across Australia is undertaken by the peak body of the Jewish Community, the Executive Council of Australia Jewry (ECAJ). It of course draws on the wonderful work combating antisemitism of its affiliates, such as the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) and the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies in Sydney, as the other affiliates in other states and in the ACT. The ECAJ Report also draws on the excellent work undertaken by the Community Security Group, the CSG, across the country.

    In Melbourne we are also lucky to have AIJAC, also doing excellent work to expose and combating antisemitism. There is also, as you mention, the work of the ADC, and in particular the Click Against Hate education program they run for schools, which is something I’m please to have originally proposed and created.

    We mustn’t forget our Zionist organisations, including the Zionist Federation of Australia and Zionism Victoria, who are also active in combating antisemitism, particularly new antisemitism which is expressed in terms of Israel and more particularly recently through the BDS movement. We’re luck that here in Australia there is no shortage of organisations undertaking real work to combat antisemitism

    The Online Hate Prevention Institute grew out of a project based at the Zionist Federation of Australia, and which did focus exclusively on online antisemitism as Anonymous advocates. After two years of doing this we recognized that to make real gains, we needed to go beyond just antisemitism. If we want to change the way companies like Facebook work, and to make it more likely antisemitism comes down, we need to take the larger and more general problem of online hate. That ranges from the anti-Muslim hate which is so widely discussed in the media, through to trolls that promote suicide, groups that promote memes denigrating Indigenous Australians, those promoting homophobia, those promoting violence against women through social media, and more. If we want to really address the problem of online antisemitism, we can’t deal with it in isolation.

    The Online Hate Prevention Institute plays a unique role globally. We handle thousands of reports a year. Our antisemitism report is based on a sample of over 2,000 items which were gathered in just 2 months. The ability to gather this data comes from our technical expertise and our unique tools. What we do is different from what others do not only here in Australia, but around the world. This work is increasingly important, and I hope that in 2016 people more people realise this and step forward to support it.

    • Andre Oboler says:

      Apologies Michael Burd, your name was not showing up before so I assumed the comment was anonymous.

  10. Michael Burd says:

    I have often wondered why Mr. Andre Oboler spends an inordinate of his time concerning himself with anti- Muslim hate , which is fine however notwithstanding there are an extraordinary number of government and non government organisations and groups looking after Muslim interests shouldn’t the Muslim community have their own watchdog that is supported and funded by the Muslim community.

    I am more concerned about anti- Zionism which has now morphed into anti- semitism which is in epidemic proportion. We only have the ADC looking after Jewish hate .I would have thought Mr Oboler would have his hands full just looking after our interests.

    Is Mr Oboler’s organisation being funded by any Muslim /Arab groups or concerns ?

    I am not aware of any Islamic schools and community centres having to erect ‘Bombproof walls surrounding their perimeter. I am not aware of Islamic schools now requiring ‘Armed Guards to protect their children. I am not aware of visiting Arab/Muslim scholars, visiting speakers, entertainers , Politicians or tennis players requiring armed security.
    I am not aware at Universities like Latrobe ,ANU or University of NSW where Muslims students are harassed .
    I would like to ask Mr. Oboler if he is aware of any Muslim organisations that have been set up to monitor anti- semitism shouldn’t fighting hate be a reciprocal responsibility ?
    Whilst Jews are living literally under siege in Australia from extremists , Radicals or Lone wolves within the Muslim community I think it is far fetched that Jews have to concern them selves about those that wish us harm,.

    I wonder if Jews set up an organisation during the 1930,s and 40,s to monitor anti- German hate.

    Go Figure?

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