Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and multiple other fellow executives are being investigated in Germany following a complaint claiming that the social media company has failed to ban hate speech on its platform. Prosecutors in Munich launched an inquiry into Zuckerberg, COO Sheryl Sandberg and European executives Richard Allan and Eva-Maria Kirschsieper after Bavarian attorney Chan-jo Jun filed a complaint in September regarding hate speech posts, German publication Der Spiegel reports.
The complaint alleges that Facebook broke national anti-hate speech laws by failing to remove posts on the site containing racist abuse, threats of violence or murder, support for terror groups and Holocaust denial. According to the complaint, Jun reportedly identified over 430 offensive posts on Facebook that were reported but never taken down by the company. Jun alleges that the company ignored the complaints and sent users who flagged the posts a generic response that apparently dismissed them as "harmless."
As per German law, Facebook is legally required to take down racist or Nazi-themed content immediately after they are notified. Munich prosecutors have opened a preliminary investigation into the matter and are examining whether there is enough evidence of a criminal offense.
The company, however, has dismissed the allegations saying that they "lack merit" and adding that none of its executives have violated any German laws.
"We are not commenting on the status of a possible investigation, but we can say the allegations lack merit and there has been no violation of German law by Facebook or its employees," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement, multiple media outlets reported. "There is no place for hate on Facebook. We work closely with partners to fight hate speech and foster counter speech."
Defining hate speech as "content that attacks people based on their actual or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or disease," Facebook says it takes down content, disables accounts and works with law enforcement when it believes "there is a genuine risk of physical harm or direct threats to public safety."
However, the company has faced mounting criticism over its failure to enforce these rules following a surge of racist and threatening content on the social media platform due to the influx of refugees in Europe.
In response to growing pressure from German politicians and public criticism, Facebook hired a Bertelsmann business service in January to monitor and take down racist content on its platform in Germany.
Earlier this year, Hamburg prosecutors rejected another similar complaint filed by Jun based on the fact that it was outside their jurisdiction since Facebook's Europe operations are based in Ireland.
In May, tech giants Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and YouTube agreed to a set of EU rules created to prohibit racist, violent and illegal content from going viral on their platforms, agreeing to review most reported offensive content within 24 hours and remove them if necessary.