German police conducted a pre-dawn raid on about 60 homes this week rounding up residents accused of posting xenophobic, racist or other "right-wing extremist" content to a private Facebook group in violation of German laws against "hate speech."
And the crackdown, while being touted by much of the media as targeting "anti-Semitism," appears largely focused on those who are critical of Islam and the hundreds of thousands of Muslim migrants who have flooded into Germany.
The country's federal police agency – the Bundeskriminalamt or BKA – said in a press release it was the first nationwide use of police force to combat hate speech on the Internet.
Facebook, along with Twitter and Google/YouTube, have come under fire in some quarters for letting hate speech fester on their platforms in Germany, reported technology journalist Lisa Vaas.
In December the social media giants agreed to help the German government crack down on hateful speech. They pledged to delete certain comments from their services within 24 hours to help fight a rising tide of "online racism" directed at the country’s influx of refugees, Vaas reported.
More than 1,000 German women were groped and sexually assaulted on New Year's Eve in Cologne, and hundreds of others have been assaulted by migrants at various German music festivals. This set off a wave of pushback that has only grown in intensity as everyday Germans have felt abandoned by the national government led by Angela Merkel.
Both sides in the debate have reported being targeted by violent attacks. Women have been assaulted, and then some Germans have responded by torching asylum centers housing the migrants.
German police have recorded 45 cases of arson at refugee centers across the country since the start of 2016.
Sometimes the rhetoric online gets heated on both sides, those seeking to limit the influx of refugees and those wanting to welcome all 1.1 million of them. It seems Germany is divided like never before.
Facebook for months had been laying the groundwork to make the 24-hour take-down policy a reality.
Under pressure from the German government, the company launched a hate-speech task force in September to deal with anti-refugee posts, Vaas reported.
Anti-Islam speech under attack in U.S. too
Some critics say Facebook is up to its ears in the censoring business not only in Europe but in the U.S. as well.
In fact, anti-Sharia activists Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer are suing the federal government to stop its alleged collusion with Facebook, Youtube and Twitter to deny certain Americans their First Amendment rights to free speech.
American Freedom Defense Initiative filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, challenging Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act or CDA under the First Amendment.
In a press release, the group explained that "Section 230 provides immunity from lawsuits to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, thereby permitting these social media giants to engage in government-sanctioned censorship and discriminatory business practices free from legal challenge," said Geller, president of AFDI, who is bringing the suit along with Spencer, who authors the Jihad Watch blog.
Geller and Spencer, along with the organizations they run, are often subject to censorship and discrimination by Facebook, Twitter and YouTube because of Geller’s and Spencer’s beliefs and views, which Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube consider expression that is offensive to Muslims, the press release said.
Geller said Germany is following in the steps of Muslim-majority countries where it is a crime to criticize Islam or its prophet. These are called the "blasphemy" laws under Shariah.
"This is where it leads when you criminalize speech -- it's a regular occurrence in Muslim countries under the sharia," Geller told WND in an email. "And so we can expect to see it in Western countries that adhere to speech restrictions in accordance with Islamic law.
"This is inevitably where it will lead if we surrender to the leftist/Islamic warmongers."
Facebook, Twitter and Youtube are all based in the Silicon Valley area of California.
"Such discrimination, which is largely religion-based in that these California businesses are favoring adherents of Islam over those who are not, is prohibited in many states but particularly in California by the state’s anti-discrimination law, which is broadly construed to prohibit all forms of discrimination. However, because of the immunity granted by the federal government, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are free to engage in their otherwise unlawful, discriminatory practices."
Geller said in a statement:
"Every day I received emails from readers and members of my various Facebook groups, asking for help after having been blocked for posting a story or comment that might offend Muslims. This is America, not Saudi Arabia. Enough. I am suing. For years I have documented the outrageous bias of Facebook’s speech policies. Notoriously one-sided, those who oppose jihad terror, support Israel and stand against the most brutal and extreme ideology on the face of the earth (Sharia) have been systematically blocked and banned."
The U.S. isn't Saudi Arabia, nor is it Germany.
BKA President Holger Münch said in the statement that the hateful words have to be suppressed. When hate speech is allowed to flourish in social networks, it foments radicalization, he said.
That, in turn, often results in attacks on refugee shelters.
Facebook, along with Twitter and YouTube, are also now facing legal action in France over hate speech.
The BKA said that Wednesday’s raids in Germany were meant to confront what it calls a substantial rise in “verbal radicalism” and related offenses.
Loretta Lynch following same model?
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch tried to implement a similar crackdown on free speech critical of Islam in the wake of the San Bernardino jihadist attack that killed 14 people at an office Christmas party in December. She said she would act "aggressively" to prosecute speech that "edged toward violence" against Muslims. She walked back her comments days later after she was roundly condemned by First Amendment advocates.
The Obama-appointed U.S. Attorney for Idaho, Wendy J. Olson, also tried to limit free speech among Idahoans critical Muslim refugees who allegedly raped a 5-year-old girl in Twin Falls on June 2. Olson was also forced to retract her statement in which she threatened to prosecute those who spread false, threatening or "inflammatory" comments about the Muslim perpetrators.
No constitutional protections in Germany
While cracking down on free speech is not constitutional in the U.S., it is in Germany.
At the center of the operations Wednesday was the Federal Office of Criminal Investigations or BKA, which stated that their aim was to "decisively confront" the strong growth in verbal radicalism which is appearing on the internet.”
Since December 2015, the BKA has been coordinating a police unit which combines state and federal police in a project called “Tackling Hate Posting."
German federal law states that spreading information which encourages violence against people due to their ethnic or religious background comes with a sentence of up to three years in jail.
"Today’s raids make one thing clear. German police are committed to tackling hate speech and provocation on the internet," BKA chief Holger Münch said in a statement.
"Hate speech can not be allowed to poison the public debate. Attacks on refugee homes are often the result of a radicalization which begins on the Internet."