Germany, whose Nazi past makes it particularly sensitive to racism and hate crimes, has seen an increase in online hate speech following the migrant crisis that flooded Germany with Muslim refugees.
The nation already has hate speech laws in place that prohibit public Holocaust denial and overt promotions of racism. Now they are cracking down on social media platforms.
This Wednesday, the German Cabinet approved a bill that seeks to mitigate online hate speech and defamatory fake news by fining social media sites if they fail to remove this content within a certain time period.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet agreed that social networks must remove “obviously criminal content” (as defined by German law) within 24 hours. All other illegal content must be removed within a week. Companies like Facebook and Twitter could face fines of up to $53.4 million for failing to do so.
Google, Facebook, and Twitter made an agreement with Germany in 2015 stating that they would delete hate speech within 24 hours. But Germany isn’t happy with their performance. According to a recent report, Facebook currently deletes about 39% of illegal content flagged by users; Twitter deletes about 1%. Facebook has disputed these results.
“We work very hard to remove illegal content from our platform and are determined to work with others to solve this problem,” said a Facebook spokesman. “As experts have pointed out, this legislation would force private companies rather than the courts to become the judges of what is illegal in Germany.”
“There can be just as little space on social networks for criminal acts as on the street,” says German Justice Minister Heiko Mass. “The Internet is characterized by the debate culture and the social climate in our country. Verbal radicalization is often the precursor to physical violence.”
Mass argues that social media platforms should be responsible for policing the content on their sites, and insists the new bill will not restrict freedom of expression because it will intervene only to stop criminal hatred and defamatory fake news.
“Freedom of expression ends where criminal law begins,” said Mass.
German lawmakers have good intentions here, but the problem with this bill is that it curbs free speech more than it helps fight hate crime. Social media companies like Facebook and Twitter are not smart or advanced enough to distinguish between posts that are legitimately criminal, posts that are offensive yet legal, and posts that are straight opinion.
Apple and Google are already trying to curb fake news in the US, but these companies’ liberal bias causes them to censor conservative lines of thought in the process.
Germany’s hate speech legislation still needs parliamentary approval.
Editor’s note: This is such a dangerous thing prosecuting people for expressing opinions. In America the 1st Amendmet of our Constitution protects free speech, but people continue to try to pass “hate speech” laws. Unfortunately, hate speech laws are easily transformed into political oppression. The German government is screwed up in its thinking, and even more screwed up to leave the ethics and morality of free vs. hate speech in the hands of companies like Twitter or Facebook.