Facebook has caved to political pressure and announced a new office in Germany to scrub abusive posts from its social network.
The center in Essen, close to Dusseldorf, will be operated by the Competence Call Center (CCC). Some 500 staff that will trawl the online platform and delete any criminal or offensive content they come across.
The new center is in addition to a similar one in Berlin, whose numbers will be increased the 700, the company said.
The decision follows the introduction of a German law, passed in June and enforced from October, that allows officials to fine the American biz up to €50m ($60m, £44m) if it consistently fails to remove hate speech and clearly illegal content within 24 hours. More ambiguous material will be allowed to stay up for up to a week.
Facebook has been criticized for years by the German government for not doing enough to tackle hate speech on its platform. Posts that are illegal under German law would often be defended under the United States' First Amendment.
German chancellor Angela Merkel famously rebuked Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg after a wave of anti-immigrant material on Facebook caused rising tensions in the country. The issue was particularly politically sensitive for Merkel since she had personally supported the introduction of up to one million immigrants from war-torn countries into Germany, going against a nationalist tone rumbling through Europe at the time.
And on Monday this week, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency accused Facebook and other tech giants of failing to take sufficient responsibility for the content that appears on their sites.
"These are huge digital companies that only see themselves as conveyors of information and hide behind the legal privileges enjoyed by platforms because they do not want to take over editorial verification of their content," argued Hans-Georg Maassen at a cybersecurity conference.
Having tried and failed to get social media and internet companies – most of them based in the United States – like Google, Facebook and Twitter to be more responsive in tackling online hate speech, the German government decided to pass a law with a financial sting. Similar laws are also being considered in the UK and the European Union.
Facebook used the new center as a PR opportunity, even allowing one German newspaper to talk to employees and take pictures of the workplace. Employees will earn between 11 and 15 euros an hour, have a 20 square-metre personal workspace and get Silicon-Valley-style benefits such as a communal games console and pinball machine.
Even though the law appears to have had the desired result – forcing Facebook to invest some of its profits into making its platform safer and compliant with local law – critics worry that such an approach will effectively allow tech companies to decide what is and is not legal speech.
Regardless of the imperfect nature of the approach, it looks certain to expand as concern over how the internet is used to spread hate and misinformation grows. Facebook said it will increase the number of staff who review and delete content from 4,500 to 7,500 worldwide. It right now has around 17,000 staff in total. ®