Monday, January 08, 2018

Berlin forced to defend hate speech law

Germany’s government has defended a new law on online hate speech that puts the country at the forefront of global efforts to police the internet but critics say in effect censors social media.

The Network Enforcement Act, which came into force on January 1, requires platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to remove potentially illegal material within 24 hours of being notified or face fines of up to €50m.

The law is by far the toughest clampdown on hate speech by a western government. But opponents have argued that it gives too much power to the social networks to decide what constitutes illegal content — a role that should be the preserve of the courts.

There are also fears that platforms where billions of online messages are uploaded each day will err on the side of caution, deleting anything even mildly controversial to avoid fines.

Bernhard Rohleder, head of Bitkom, a digital trade body, said the “administration of justice is being privatised and handed over to the big US platforms”. “We’re going to see private court martials in the social media that will pass judgment and put to death chop-chop, within 24 hours,” he said.

So far the law’s noisiest detractors are politicians from the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a rightwing, anti-immigration party whose leader Alexander Gauland likened the law to the “Stasi methods” and warned it would kill off free speech.

But disapproval has come from across Germany’s political spectrum. “The law turns AfD politicians into opinion martyrs and appears to confirm their most dangerous slogan — that there are certain things (“truths”, according to the AfD) that you just can’t say in Germany any more,” wrote Julian Reichelt, editor of the mass circulation Bild Zeitung. He called for it to be abolished.

Known in Germany as NetzDG, the law was passed last year amid alarm in Berlin at the proliferation of racist abuse and fake news on social media and how this might shape public opinion before last September’s Bundestag elections.

That was combined with anger at the perceived failure of companies such as Facebook to crack down on posts, even when they clearly violated German laws, including prohibitions of incitement to racial hatred and Holocaust denial.

Heiko Maas, justice minister and proponent of the NetzDG, defended it on Friday in an interview with news magazine Spiegel. He said German media laws obliged operators of social networks to remove illegal content — but that they had failed to comply.

The measure ensured more effective enforcement of “laws that already exist”, Mr Maas said. “Whoever distributes illegal content in the Internet must be resolutely prosecuted and brought to justice.”

Social media platforms have argued the law is superfluous because they have intensified their efforts to police content. Facebook says last summer it was removing 3,500 posts reported as hate speech every week in Germany — or 15,000 a month. It says it employs 1,200 people to monitor German content for hate speech, one-sixth of its global “community operations team”.

Twitter says it significantly tightened its rules on hate speech in December, including a ban on the use of swastikas, SS runes and other Nazi paraphernalia in users’ profile photos.

The tougher rules have led to a flurry of Twitter bans. The highest-profile casualty was Beatrix von Storch, deputy leader of the AfD parliamentary group. She had taken exception to a New Year’s greeting in Arabic issued by the Cologne police, tweeting: “What the hell is wrong with this country? . . . Is this your way of mollifying the barbarian, Muslim, gang-raping hordes of men?”

Twitter responded by suspending her account for 12 hours.

Another casualty was Titanic, a satirical news magazine, which had its Twitter account suspended after parodying Ms von Storch’s tweet — a clear example, critics say, of how easily the law can backfire. Twitter later unblocked the account on appeal.

Ms von Storch condemned Twitter’s move but others in the AfD are making hay with the tough new regime. “In this day and age, a charge of incitement is the new badge of honour,” tweeted another AfD MP, Jens Maier.



Bird of Paradise said...

To liberals hate speech is anything that makes snowflakes cry and feel uncomfortible

Anonymous said...

Courts martial are only such if they are actually martial.
A private company (or any non-military organisation) can never have a court martial.
Germany has been tough on speech for a long time - and its only getting worse.