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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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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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