The Berlin-based tabloid newspaper B.Z. has in recent weeks emerged as Germany's main media critic of a much bigger adversary: Facebook. B.Z. has repeatedly mobilized readers to go after the social media giant for not doing more to delete hate speech against refugees. Germany has experienced a wave of such comments in recent weeks.
On Monday, the paper decided to raise awareness with a provocative initiative. On its Web site and Facebook page, the paper posted pictures of artworks depicting nude women, such as Amedeo Modigliani's 1917 painting "Reclining Nude" and Sandro Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus." The paper prominently displayed the paintings on Facebook for 24 hours to showcase the alleged ambivalence of the deletion policies.
"The enterprise rigorously takes action against all content which has a sexual context. Facebook's explanation: Users could feel offended because of their religion. In other words: One cannot expect Muslims to look at a nude painting, but [it seems acceptable that Muslims] are exposed to hatred, smear campaigns and collective death threats. This is absurd!" the paper explained.
"It's about hate messages, a smear campaign against foreigners and right-wing propaganda," B.Z. wrote in the commentary. "So far, Facebook has, apart from some individual cases, not reacted to the increasing public opinion (in Germany) which considers the company to be responsible for the content that's published on its site. We think that the same standards that are valid for media outlets should also apply to Facebook."
The campaign is reminiscent of another tabloid newspaper's decision to run an edition without any pictures a week ago. In a statement, Bild called the edition "a tribute to the power of images," and said it was a reaction to those who were upset that the paper published photos of the body of a Syrian child who drowned off the coast of Turkey.
On Monday, the German justice minister, Heiko Maas, met with representatives of Facebook to discuss the company's approach toward hate speech. Following the meeting, Facebook said that it would collaborate with German organizations "to develop appropriate solutions to counter xenophobia and racism and to represent this online".
The social media accounts and comments sections of German media outlets have been flooded with anti-refugee and xenophobic messages in recent months. At first, social media managers tried to react to the comments mainly by ridiculing them in public. But some Germans have decided to sue users for the xenophobic comments. As a consequence, several commentators have been laid off or fired after their online activities were exposed.
Many of the xenophobic posts are archived by a blog that publishes screenshots of the comments and provides information about their employers, if available. The blog's creators, who remain anonymous over fears of retribution, founded the site because they said they didn't think Facebook was doing enough to stop hate speech.
"Something dramatic needs to happen for Facebook to react," the two founders told the German newspaper Die Welt.