As the calendar turned to 2018, a new German social media laws are set to be vigorously enforced requiring social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, etc. to remove hate speech, fake news, and “criminal content.” See BBC report here.
While the new German law applies only to websites with 2 million or more members, that could change. The law might soon be applied to your company’s website.
Details on Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz
The new German law is called Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz — or “NetzDG” for short. NetzDG was passed by the German Legislature back in June 2017 and actually became effective in October. However, it was announced that the law would only be mildly enforced until January 1st to give internet companies time to put into place policies and procedures. The new law is intended to speed up the process of removing criminal content.
Previously enacted statutes already require that websites remove criminal content; the new law adds a quick turnaround — 24 hours after notice — and significant fines — 50 million euro (approximately $60 million). The new law also requires the networks to offer users “an easily recognizable, directly reachable, and constantly available” complaint process for “prosecutable content.” The networks must also report back to the person who filed the complaint about how they handled the case and the networks can be forced to reveal the identity of those posting the criminal content. “Criminal content” is anything, which includes libel, slander, defamation, incitement to commit a crime, hate speech against a particular social group, and/or threats.
As the BBC reports, “Facebook, Twitter and YouTube will be the law’s main focus but it is also likely to be applied to Reddit, Tumblr and Russian social network VK. Other sites such as Vimeo and Flickr could also be caught up in its provisions.”
As noted, NetzDG requires that “evidently illegal” content be taken down within 24 hours. Internet companies have seven days if certain content is not obviously illegal. According to the BBC report, Facebook has recently hired hundreds of new employees to handle the new requirements.
The law was proposed because studies showed that various internet platforms were terrible to good on removing hate speech and other types of criminal content. See report here. For example, the studies showed that Twitter was terrible in that only about 1% of criminal content was removed. Facebook did better at about 50%, and YouTube was the best with a 90% take-down rate.
NetzDG Has Already Sparked Controversy in its First Week
In just its first week, NetzDG has already sparked several controversies. First, Twitter accounts for several German right-wing politicians were shut down for posting hate-speech. One of the politician was Beatrix von Storch. She was banned from Twitter for 12 hours for tweeting the following:
“What the h**l is happening in this country? Why is an official police site tweeting in Arabic? Do you think it is to appease the barbaric, gang-raping hordes of Muslim men?”
This was in response to Happy New Years tweets by City of Cologne police force sent in German and other languages, including Arabic. See report here.
A German satirical magazine, called Titanic, entered the fray and also had its Twitter account suspended for two days for violating hate speech laws. After von Storch was suspended, Titanic created a parody “von Storch” Twitter account and proceeded to tweet von-Storch-esque posts including negative comments about Muslims. Twitter flagged and removed the tweets and then suspended the Titanic Twitter account.
The whole episode created a dramatic political firestorm. The author of the legislation, Germany’s Minister of Justice Heiko Maas, defended NetzDG by saying that “calls to commit homicide, threats and insults, sedition or Holocaust denial were not exercising freedom of expression, but attacking the freedom of expression of others.”
NetzDG Already Creating Streisand Effects
With respect to lawmaker von Storch and others banned by Twitter, the bannings created significant Streisand effects. Ms. von Storch is a member of the German right-wing AfD as were the other politicians who were banned. The AfD party reported that, after the bannings, roughly 10,000 new followers began following the Twitter account for the AfD bringing the total number of followers of that account to nearly 1 million.
Twitter Offers Clarification on NetzDG
Following a week of controversy, according to the reports, Twitter released a statement clarifying its stance. Twitter announced that accounts belonging to prominent world leaders would enjoy a special status and less likely be banned or suspended. Twitter stated on its corporate blog:
“Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate.”
Consequences for Business
US and EU businesses are caught between competing social and political forces. Unfettered movement of ideas and people on the internet is generally good for business. But governments are increasingly demanding that private businesses enforce public laws. This is problematic since these laws are not without controversy and the requirements carry significant costs for any e-commerce business. There are direct costs such as the need to hire hundreds of new employees, indirect costs such as potential lost business from angry customers, and potential costs in the form of possible fines.
In the case of the new German law, businesses are subject to charges of censorship from consumers/users — charges that come from both the political left AND the political right. Customers can and do boycott. US based fast food restaurant Chick-Fil-A has been dealing with boycotts for several years because its owners support anti-gay/lesbian political groups and ideological positions. A new restaurant is opening in Detroit, and a local paper began its article with this: “Homophobic chicken lovers rejoice.”
Contact the Internet Lawyers at Revision Legal Today
If you want more information about NetzDG, contact the professionals at Revision Legal. Internet law is at the core of Revision Legal’s practice with trademark, corporate, e-commerce, and litigation practice areas based on our experience and passion for helping online businesses grow. We are internet-focused attorneys; we understand the languages you speak; we know the complex and unique issues you face. Contact us via email or call us at 855-473-8474.
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