- Facebook, Twitter, and Google will have to delete racist and other hateful posts a lot faster in Germany after a new law came into force on January 1.
- The companies will have as little as 24 hours to judge whether a post is hateful, and then delete it. They faces fines of up to €50 million if they don’t comply.
- The new law has already claimed its first scalp in far-right politician Beatrix von Storch, who is under police investigation after describing Muslims as “barbarians” on Facebook and Twitter.
- Critics say social media companies are likely to delete content which doesn’t qualify as hate speech under the new law, negatively impacting press freedom.
Germany has started enforcing a strict new law around hate speech on social media — and has already launched a criminal investigation into a far-right MP who called Muslims “barbarians.”
The new law, known locally as NetzDG or the Network Enforcement Act, forces social media sites to delete offensive posts. It came into effect on January 1, and covers Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Google, and YouTube, but excludes LinkedIn and WhatsApp, according a report in Deutsche Welle.
Beatrix von Storch is the deputy leader of far-right party AfD and is under investigation by the police for recent inflammatory Facebook and Twitter posts describing Muslims as “barbarians.” In a now-deleted tweet, she complained that Cologne police were tweeting season’s greetings in Arabic and claimed this was trying to appease “gang-raping” Muslims.
According to reports, she was temporarily blocked from Twitter but has now been reinstated.
Von Storch reposted the same message on Facebook on December 31 as a kind of test to see whether it would be deleted. Her post remains live on Facebook as of Tuesday morning.
Here’s the original Facebook post in German:
And here’s a translation of what the post says:
“The Cologne police are tweeting New Year greetings in Arabic. And now Twitter is blocking me because I’m promoting violence with my counter-tweet. Let’s see if you can say this on Facebook:
‘What the hell is going on in this country? Why is an official police page from NRW tweeting in Arabic? Do you think you’ll appease the barbarian, Muslim, gang-raping hordes of men?’
Happy New Year! In a free country! In which everyone can call a barbarian a barbarian. Even if they are Muslims. (I mean those, from whom we are setting up protection areas for German women, because the state can’t guarantee security outside those areas because of these barbarians.)
It’s likely there will be an influx of cases like von Storch’s now that Germany is enacting its new law.
According to Deutsche Welle, the law has been in effect since October, but the German government gave social media firms a three month grace period to adjust to the new systems.
The law dictates that Facebook, Twitter, and other firms must investigate complaints of hate speech on their platforms immediately. They must delete threats of violence, slander, and other hateful content within 24 hours of the complaint, or within a week if the issue is more legally tricky. The government can fine the firms up to €50 million (£45 million) if they don’t comply.
Not everyone is happy about the change. Reporters Without Borders said in July that the “Facebook law” would have a negative impact on press freedom.
“The short deadline for removal, coupled with the threat of heavy fines, will very likely drive social networks to remove more content than is legally justified. Even journalistic publications will face a real danger of being affected by this kind over-blocking without due process,” said the organisation’s executive director for Germany, Christian Mihr, at the time.