College president wages war against ‘hate speech’ on Facebook
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College president wages war against ‘hate speech’ on Facebook

Facebook is home to witty rhetoric, memes and funny videos, photos of friends and updates from loved ones. But sometimes the popular social media site opens its doors to something darker and provides a platform for hate speech.

Seamus Carey, the president of Transylvania University, wants to do something about it.

“Today, it [education] faces unprecedented challenges in the lawlessness that pervades the digital world,” said Carey.

Following the “harassment” of a DACA recipient at the university, Carey has called for Facebook to increase hate speech regulation. The issue is a matter which Congress should address, he claimed.

Carey wrote in an essay for Inside Higher Ed that the “sacredness of [their] campus was disrupted by a social media firestorm” when a student was subjected to online abuse.

The student in question, Paola Garcia, has now left the university. A hoard of “abusive messages” from fellow students bombarded Garcia following the release of her immigration status on Facebook.

Garcia’s information was posted on a “racial hatred page”, encouraging people to report her for being an “illegal immigrant”. While Garcia is undocumented, she is living in the United States legally through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme.

In September, Donald Trump ended the DACA programme leaving the so-called ‘Dreamers’ with uncertain fates.

Allegedly, Taylor Ragg, a student at Transylvania University, was the perpetrator of these posts. Ragg claimed that universities have “an atmosphere of liberal censorship pretty much everywhere”.

“Carey is blatantly violating my fundamental rights and libelling me. If he isn’t concerned about immigration laws, why would he care about my first amendment rights?”

Ragg is now expelled.

“Full access to data allows people to threaten, harass and abuse,” Carey stated. “The absence of codes and regulations in the digital world too often leads users of social media to act on their worst instincts.”

Germany has the right idea, claimed Carey. The Network Enforcement Law (or “Facebook Law”) was passed through German government in June and will come into effect in this month. The law means  social media companies will be responsible for monitoring, preventing and removing hate speech from their sites.

If the companies violate the law they could risk fines of up to €50 million (US$57 million). The sites have 24 hours to remove the content before they will face fines. As a result, Facebook has hired thousands of content “screeners” to review posts.

Digital rights activists have criticised the new German law, claiming it will infringe on free speech and give companies “disproportionate responsibility in determining the legality of online content”.

Johannes Baldauf, who works with Berlin-based anti-hate speech and extremism organisation Amadeu Antonio Stiftung claimed that the issue runs deeper than censorship. “You can’t just change the mind of the people by proposing a law. And you can’t just delete what these people are thinking.”

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