Social Media Giants Questioned On Encouraging Hate Crimes

April 10, 2019 by Tom Ramstack
Companies could be hit with fines as high as 4 percent of annual revenue if they systematically fail to remove problematic content. (Dreamstime/TNS)

WASHINGTON – Democrats in Congress used a hearing Tuesday to criticize President Donald Trump and social media companies for encouraging white nationalism and hate crimes.

They cited FBI statistics showing hate crimes have increased since Trump took office in 2016.

“The president’s rhetoric fans the flames,” said Representative Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Witnesses at the hearing testified about hate crimes against African Americans, Jews, Muslims, gays and others.

“Americans have died because of it,” Nadler said about white nationalism and hate crimes.

Lawmakers launched some of their complaints against social media giants like Facebook and Google. They said their failure to adequately screen hateful messages meant the Internet platforms could be used to organize white supremacists.

Representative David Cicilline, D-R.I., asked Facebook and Google executives to acknowledge they might have unintentionally promoted white nationalism.

He mentioned the example of ultra-conservative commentator Faith Goldy, who has asked her viewers to help “stop the white race from vanishing.” Facebook removed her from their website last week after what Cicilline described as an overly long delay.

“What specific proactive steps is Facebook taking to identify other leaders like Faith Goldy and preemptively remove them from the platform,” Cicilline asked.

Facebook director of public policy Neil Potts said, “There is no place for terrorism or hate on Facebook.”

The company uses mathematical algorithms that identify hateful messages and experts to review them.

“We remove any content that incites violence,” Potts said.

Evidence presented at the hearing included an FBI report in November showing hate crimes increased 17 percent between 2016 and 2017. In addition, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that the number of hate groups has been increasing, reaching 1,020 last year.

Alexandria Walden, Google’s counsel for free expression and human rights, responded to a question about the statistics by saying, “Yes I am aware of all the research.”

She agreed Google and its subsidiary, YouTube, have a responsibility to screen out hate on the Internet.

However, social media representatives also say they must balance their duties to stop hate on the Internet against consumers’ rights to free speech.

Examples of white supremacist hate crimes lawmakers discussed included the Christchurch, New Zealand murders of 50 people at two mosques last month and the 2015 killing of nine African American church members in Charleston, South Carolina.

The hearing was being live-streamed on YouTube when it started. YouTube officials shut down the streaming video after 30 minutes as viewers started posting racist and anti-Semitic comments on the social media’s chat line.

The House Judiciary Committee chairman read some of the hateful comments during the hearing along with the online names of the persons who posted them. He said they showed why the committee was holding the hearing.

Some of the most emotional testimony came from Mohammad Abu-Salha, a Muslim whose two daughters and son-in-law were shot and killed in a hate crime in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 2015.

He gave details of his daughters’ lives before the shootings. He also described how they were threatened and then murdered.

He said social media companies must stop “providing platforms and safe haven” for hate groups.

On Wednesday, a Republican-controlled Senate subcommittee plans to hold a hearing to discuss whether Facebook, Google and Twitter are biased against conservatives, President Donald Trump was one of the political leaders who made this allegation.

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