Germany Prods Zuckerberg to Police `Illegal' Facebook Posts

  • Merkel's chief of staff, Facebook CEO meet in Berlin
  • Germany concerned about xenophobic posts in refugee crisis

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff pressed Mark Zuckerberg to ensure that hate messages are removed from Facebook, saying Germany insists on action against illegal postings.

“We have been in a process with Facebook for some time to ensure that hate mails and messages of hate are removed,” Peter Altmaier told reporters after he and the Facebook Inc. chief executive officer met in Berlin on Thursday. “I reiterated to Mr. Zuckerberg that we have a great interest in -- and insist on -- the removal of illegal content from Facebook.”

Merkel’s government has stepped up efforts to counter racist comments after a surge in the number of refugees arriving in Germany last year spurred hate postings on social-media sites. Justice Minister Heiko Maas met Facebook executives in September and said afterward that he wants to see “criminal comments disappear from the net.”

Merkel confronted Zuckerberg in September on the sidelines of a United Nations development summit in New York on how his company is progressing in efforts to curtail racist posts, after her government complained the social network wasn’t doing enough to crack down on xenophobic outbursts.

Altmaier said he had a constructive conversation with Zuckerberg and sensed that the Facebook CEO has “a great personal interest” in meeting commitments the company has already made to the German government. On stage at the same venue in Berlin, Zuckerberg told the audience that artificial intelligence, a technology that Facebook is promoting, can help filter out “bad, abusive” content. He didn’t comment on his meeting with Altmaier.

Later Thursday, at an event in Berlin during which Zuckerberg got an award sponsored by German publisher Axel Springer SE, the Facebook CEO touted the prospects of virtual reality and artificial intelligence technology. While he didn’t comment on illegal posts on his network, Facebook said that if anyone can share content freely, it "makes the world more understanding.”

Axel Springer CEO Mathias Doepfner called the debate over policing posts on Facebook “misleading,” saying publishers must accept their role to curate content instead of delegating that role to a social community.

Zuckerberg also had some good news for the guests of the award ceremony: Artificial Intelligence won’t kill us all. The concern that AI could become smarter than humans and lead to their downfall is “pretty hysterical -- and dangerous,” as the technology can become be a very positive force by fighting diseases and reducing car accidents, Zuckerberg said.

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