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German Law Requires Companies To Swiftly Delete 'Obviously Illegal' User Content

The German Parliament passed a new social media law, called the “Network Enforcement Act” (“NetzDG” in German), that punishes social media companies with fines ranging from 5 million to 50 million euro if they don’t immediately remove “obviously illegal” content. Human rights groups have called the law rushed and harmful to free expression.

Striking Back Against Hate Speech

According to the German Federal Criminal Police Office, hate crime has grown by 300% in the past two years alone. In a speech today, Germany’s Federal Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection, Heiko Maas, said that freedom of expression is a great asset to have in an open society, but it ends where criminal law begins. 

The minister believes that the real attacks against freedom of speech happen when some people use hateful comments and threats to silence and harass others online. In regards to mandating that companies such as Facebook and Google remove hateful comment from their platforms, the minister noted that the companies are not “above the law” and that they must fulfill their obligations.

Presumably, Maas was referring to the fact that, up until this point, companies that managed online platforms weren't liable for their users' posts. However, the ministers seems to believe that the platform managers are also at fault for the hateful content they allow on their platforms.

Although Germany is the first European country to pass such strict laws, Maas has also called for the adoption of EU-wide regulations against hate speech as well as "fake news."

Criticism Against Germany’s New Law

At a recent hearing, of the 10 experts who were invited to testify, eight criticized the law that was still in draft stage at the time. Five of them said the law would be incompatible with the German Constitution. The Network Enforcement Act was slightly modified since then and, for instance, the mention of companies having to implement automatic content filters has been removed.

However, a new “self-regulatory” body will have to be created, whose operation costs will be paid by the private industry. The companies will be able to send some content for evaluation if they are uncertain of its legality. It’s not clear how transparent or accountable this body will be, according to the European Digital Rights (EDRi) non-profit organization.

A recent post on ProPublica has shown that Facebook’s own censorship policies are inconsistent at best. For instance, the company would censor hate speech against white people, but not against certain Muslim groups that were considered radicalized by Facebook's low-paid contractors. It’s also not the first time Facebook’s inconsistent censorship rules have attracted the public’s attention, whether it was about old and popular war pictures or blocking competitors’ links.

The bottom line is that the private companies are expected to become a sort of privatized internet police, when they themselves don’t have a good track record of banning actual illegal content and not infringing on people’s free expression in the process.

EDRi also had some harsh words to say towards the European Commission because it didn’t do more to stop the alleged violation of European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights:

The European Commission had legal duties to take action to protect citizens’ interest. It failed to do so. It is not just the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union that the Commission had promised to respect, but also not to “seek nor take instructions” from Member States. It is a pity the European Commission appears to have chosen politics over legal obligations. We can only assume that it is a coincidence that the Commission failed to act against an illegal proposal from the largest EU Member State, while saying that it might take action against other Member States that would propose similar measures.

The Network Enforcement Act won’t go into effect until October, after the German federal election. However, it’s unlikely there will be any more changes to the law until then.

The UK and France have also recently announced a partnership that aims to “tackle online radicalization” by imposing fines and penalties on technology companies that fail to remove content on time.

  • takeshi7
    This will be abused to silence criticism of the government. Calling it now.
    Reply
  • techy1966
    So the jist of this is if a company does not remove content that is deemed racist the company can be fined. What about freedom of speech and the fact everyone has the same right to express themselves whether it is agreeable to everyone or not. I get that being racist is bad everybody has to live on this planet we call earth. We are all of the human race but maybe tell that to a certain group of people out there that think they are the only beings on this planet that deserve to live here and if you don't believe in what they believe you are not worthy and deserve to die.

    What laws are gonna be put in place to protect the rest of us from this type of thought process going on now days.
    Reply
  • falchard
    Freedom of speech and liberalism is uniquely American. Outside the US such views are not the norm.
    Reply
  • DarkSable
    19883668 said:
    Freedom of speech and liberalism is uniquely American. Outside the US such views are not the norm.

    I'm sorry, but... no.
    Our Democratic party would be considered moderate at best, if not conservative-leaning, by most of Europe.
    Reply
  • falchard
    Liberalism is about freedom. Only the US will let you spout off racist nonsense because that is what it means to be free. Some people seem to confuse liberalism with something else.
    Reply
  • rayden54
    "Obviously illegal” under who's laws? Germany's? What right do they have to regulate the internet?
    Reply
  • jimmysmitty
    19883630 said:
    This will be abused to silence criticism of the government. Calling it now.

    It already has actually. In other cases of course. In some countries people have been fined, arrested or jailed for their social media posts.

    19884144 said:
    "Obviously illegal” under who's laws? Germany's? What right do they have to regulate the internet?

    They don't but they act like it. The EU is mainly controlled and pushed by Germany, with France kind of helping. That's why so many companies keep getting fined for "anti-competitive" practices, mainly big companies.

    And the sad thing is that unless it incites violence social media posts are just posts. Censoring that is horrible.

    Welcome to 1984.

    Reply
  • one_with_shadows
    So, my opinion is only ok...if it doesn't offend someone? Well, sheesh. Guess I agree with everyone. I'm sure this worked out great for the Germans pre-WW2. Don't say anything illegal... What a crock.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    19883630 said:
    This will be abused to silence criticism of the government. Calling it now.
    And how would that court case go the government's way?
    Reply
  • bit_user
    19884327 said:
    19883630 said:
    This will be abused to silence criticism of the government. Calling it now.

    It already has actually. In other cases of course. In some countries
    If it's "in some other countries" then it's not this law. Regardless of whether this law is good or bad, it's flawed analysis to treat it as equivalent to different laws in different countries.

    19884327 said:
    19884144 said:
    "Obviously illegal” under who's laws? Germany's? What right do they have to regulate the internet?
    They don't but they act like it. The EU is mainly controlled and pushed by Germany, with France kind of helping. That's why so many companies keep getting fined for "anti-competitive" practices, mainly big companies.
    The EU parliament has proportional representation, with Germany and France having a combined share of 170 seats. That's only 22.6% of the 751 total seats. I'm not exactly sure how that qualifies as controlling it.
    Reply