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Digital life: Bringing to book those with hate in their hearts

After the Cologne New Year's Eve assaults, Facebook has launched its new Online Civil Courage Initiative in Germany, pledging a million euro to counter hostility and online extremism. Katie Wright looks at the approach

Facebook has announced a new scheme designed to "combat online extremism and hate speech through better understanding and the ability to respond to the challenges of extremist speech on the internet".

Called the Online Civil Courage Initiative (OCCI), it was unveiled in Berlin by chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, who said: "We all have a responsibility to take on dangerous content - offline and online. Thus, we have repeatedly emphasised that Facebook is no place for the dissemination of xenophobia, hate speech, or calls for violence."

Using a three-pronged approach, the initiative will:

1. Provide marketing and financial support - starting with a €1m donation from Facebook - to existing NGOs

2. Work with experts to develop best practice for other online firms, governments and NGOs to follow

3. Fund academic research to further understanding

Headquartered in Germany, the initiative is a partnership with three other NGOs, led by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based "think-and-do-tank" committed to tackling extremism.

Why Germany? Because criticism of Facebook for failing to adequately fight extremism - which has been heard the world over - has been particularly strong in the country, where the recent influx of refugees has led to an increase in xenophobic rhetoric on the social media site.

After hundreds of women were assaulted by gangs of men in the city of Cologne of New Year's Eve, police say members of right-wing organisations used Facebook to coordinate four "revenge" attacks on groups of foreigners.

Last November, prosecutors began an investigation into whether Facebook was doing enough to fight the spread of hate speech, and politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, have been vocal about the need to quickly identify and remove racist posts.

The OCCI launch is seen as a direct response to critics.

"With this initiative," Sandberg says, "we are convinced to better understand and respond to the challenges of extremist speech on the internet."

Belfast Telegraph


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