Hate speech or censorship?
Under pressure from German lawmakers, Facebook this week deleted a controversial image titled “Jews Among Us,” which showed the location of more than 70 Jewish-owned institutions and businesses.
The image was posted on Facebook by a Neo-Nazi group to mark the 78th anniversary of a night of anti-Semitic violence known as the Kristallnacht, and was reported earlier this month by the Jerusalem Post. The appearance of the map soon led to threats against a Berlin man whose restaurant appeared on it, according to the New York Times, which reported the man began receiving anonymous calls saying “I hate Jews.”
The restaurant owner, Yorai Feinberg, said he did not report the incident to Facebook fb , claiming that he thought the social network would not take action based on his previous attempts to call out anti-Semitic material.
After people called attention to the map, Facebook did not immediately take action and instead concluded it fell within the company’s internal guidelines on free speech. The situation then turned into another stand-off between the company and the German government, which have clashed in the past over how to apply Germany’s strict laws against hate speech.
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Ultimately, Facebook removed both the map and the entire page of the Neo-Nazi group who had published it.
“We recognize that this is a work in progress,” Richard Allen, Facebook’s director of policy in Europe, told the Times. “It was hate speech, and it should have been taken down.”
The map incident comes at a time when Facebook is wrestling with how to address the enormous influence the company wields over the media, and how to apply the so-called “community guidelines” it uses to decide what users may publish.
In September, for instance, Facebook came under widespread criticism after it elected to censor an iconic Vietnam war photograph, presumably because it deemed the photo indecent. (Facebook later reversed its decision.)
In the case of the “Jews Among Us” map, Facebook could frame its decision as a legal one, arguing the company had no choice but to remove the map because it was illegal under German law. But in other countries, which have broader free speech laws, Facebook would likely face a dilemma over whether to use its own internal policies to delete controversial postings like the map.