Facebook has learnt from Germany to include migrants as a class of people that needed to be protected from “hate speech” online, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said on the second day of a visit to Berlin on Friday.
A perceived slowness to remove anti-migrant postings by neo-Nazi sympathisers has increased antipathy to Facebook in Germany at a time of raised tensions and outbreaks of violence against record numbers of migrants arriving in the country.
Facebook already has the cultural obstacle of privacy to deal with in Germany, a country reunited after the Cold War only 25 years ago where memories of spying were reawakened by Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations of prying by the state.
The world’s biggest social network rarely breaks down users by country but says it has about 21 million daily users in Germany or about a quarter of the population, fewer than the 24 million it had in less populous Britain more than two years ago.
“I just think there’s an incredibly rich history here, in this city and in this country that shapes the culture and really makes Germans in a lot of ways the leaders in the world when it comes to pushing for privacy,” Zuckerberg said.
“That’s one of the important things about coming here,” the 31-year-old entrepreneur told an audience of more than 1,000 young people, mostly students, who had been invited through their universities or signed up on Facebook to ask a question.
Zuckerberg, who spent his first day in Berlin jogging in the snow, meeting Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, talking about technology and receiving an award, engaged on Friday with the issues that dog the company in Germany.
Journalists were not permitted to ask questions during the town hall meeting nor on any other part of Zuckerberg’s visit.
Asked why he was not doing more to remove “hate speech” from Facebook in Germany, Zuckerberg talked about an initiative with local partners to counter that and the 200 people the social network had hired in Germany to help police the site.
He said Facebook had not previously considered migrants as a class of people who needed protection, akin to racial minorities or other underrepresented groups that Facebook looks out for.
“Learning more about German culture and German law has led us to change our approach on that,” he said. “This is always a work in progress. I’m not going to claim up here today that we’re perfect, we’re definitely not.”
Nineteen-year-old Jonas Umland, an IT student who posed the question on “hate speech”, expressed a degree of satisfaction with Zuckerberg’s answer.
“I found it good that Mark said there was room for improvement. On the other hand, he didn’t mention any specific measures Facebook would take,” he told Reuters after the event.
“He came across very well, also at times spontaneous,” he said. “I found him very likeable.”