Facebook Inc began a Europe-wide campaign on Monday, January 18, to thwart extremist posts on social media, after German politicians in particular raised concerns about a rise in xenophobic comments linked to an influx of refugees.

The U.S.-based group launched its 'Initiative for Civil Courage Online' in Berlin, pledging over 1 million euros ($1.09 million) to support non-governmental organisations in their efforts to counter racist and xenophobic posts.

An image from the Initiative for Civil Courage Online Facebook page

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said hate speech "has no place in our society", including in the Internet. Facebook's ground rules forbid bullying, harassment and threatening language, but critics say it does not enforce them properly.

On Friday, the firm said it had hired a unit of the publisher Bertelsmann to monitor and delete racist posts on its platform in Germany. In November, prosecutors in Hamburg launched an investigation into Facebook on suspicion of not doing enough to prevent the dissemination of hate speech.

Members of LEGIDA, the Leipzig arm of the anti-Islam movement Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA), hold a placard showing German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) as they take part in a rally in Leipzig, Germany | Source: Reuters

Top German politicians and celebrities have voiced concern about the rise of anti-foreigner comments on Facebook and other social media as the country struggles to cope with a tide of new migrants that amounted to 1.1 million last year alone.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Facebook to do more, and the Justice Ministry set up a task force with Facebook and other social networks and Internet service providers with the aim of identifying criminal posts more quickly and taking them down.

(Feature image source: Reuters)