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Germany Asks: Is Zuckerberg Criminally Liable For Facebook Hate Speech?

Two German lawyers say the Facebook founder and CEO doesn't do enough to stop hate speech.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, between like and hate
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, between like and hate
Simon Hurtz

MUNICH — Two German lawyers are seeking criminal charges against the head of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, accusing him of enabling sedition. The lawyers, who have asked that the U.S. founder pay a 150 million-euro fine, say Zuckerberg should be held personally responsible for posts Facebook users have published on the social network that defy German law over hate speech.

Earlier attempts to seek charges against local Facebook managers in Germany have thus far been rejected by prosecutors, though similar charges against a European regional boss are still being investigated.

Though Facebook has recently reassured the justice ministry that they abide by German law, the company has not yet put the policy into practice, says Chan-jo Jun, one of the two lawyers. "Whenever we report left-wing or right-wing calls for extremist sedition, calls for or images of violence, we systematically get one and only one answer from Facebook: It does not violate our community guidelines," says Jun. "This has nothing to do with inability, it's a strategy."

Jun, who has pressed the charges against Zuckerberg in cooperation with Christian Solmecke, further argues that the Facebook CEO can be held responsible for crimes committed via the platform, even if he acknowledges that Zuckerberg's conviction is quite unlikely. Jun nonetheless says Facebook, which has 28 million users in Germany, must recognize the problem: "They have noticed us, they do make some efforts already, but not enough if you ask me. We want more."

Indeed, Facebook has intensified action against hate comments over the past couple of months. In November they announced plans to forcefully delete "threats of physical violence," especially linked to the recent wave of refugees entering Germany.

The lawyers, together with the Amadeo-Antonio-foundation, a German NGO, have founded the "Initiative for Online Civic Courage," which aims to encourage people to show civil courage and to counter online hatred. Facebook has refused to comment on the latest initiatives.

Jun has already sought charges against several Facebook managers in Germany last September, accusing them of sedition as well. The public prosecutor's office of Hamburg opened an investigation, which ended earlier this month, rejecting the charges. The prosecutors found no initial suspicion for sedition, but also noted that the accused German managers' responsibility only covered marketing and customer acquisition. The case of Martin Ott, a top Facebook manager for northern, central and eastern Europe, is still being investigated, says the public prosecutor's office of Hamburg, which wants to clarify if he can be held personally responsible for published posts. It is likely though that proceedings will be closed eventually here too.

Regardless of how the German prosecutors handle the accusations against Zuckerberg and Ott, the commitment has already proven being worth the trouble, says Jun. "Facebook does not question German law anymore and they have already deleted several posts." Still, that typically comes after an uproar from the media and politicians, rather than the pursuit of the German justice system.

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Geopolitics

Patronage Or Politics? What's Driving Qatar And Egypt Grand Rapprochement

For Cairo, Qatar had been part of an “axis of evil,” with anger directed at Al Jazeera, the main Qatari outlet, and others critical of Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood ouster. But the vitriol is now gone, with the first ever visit by Egyptian President al-Sisi to Doha.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with the Emir of Qatar in June 2022 in Cairo

Beesan Kassab, Daniel O'Connell, Ehsan Salah, Hazem Tharwat and Najih Dawoud

For the first time since coming to power in 2014, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi traveled to Doha last month on an official visit, a capstone in a steadily building rapprochement between the two countries in the last year.

Not long ago, however, the photo-op capturing the two heads of state smiling at one another in Doha would have seemed impossible. In the wake of the Armed Forces’ ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013, Qatar and Egypt traded barbs.

In the lexicon of the intelligence-controlled Egyptian press landscape, Qatar had been part of an “axis of evil” working to undermine Egypt’s stability. Al Jazeera, the main Qatari outlet, was banned from Egypt, but, from its social media accounts and television broadcast, it regularly published salacious and insulting details about the Egyptian administration.

But all of that vitriol is now gone.

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