Top German Newspaper Harshly Criticizes New Anti-Free Speech Law

Eric Lieberman | Tech and Law Reporter

The editor in chief of Bild, one of the top newspapers in Germany, harshly criticized a very new law Thursday that aims to significantly reduce online hate speech, while still protecting other forms of expression.

The law, which came into effect at the start of the new year, was used almost immediately, with authorities in the country already launching an investigation into Breatrix von Storch, deputy leader of the country’s far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD). The politician is suspected of violating the new rules by equating many Muslims to “barbarians” in posts published on Facebook and Twitter.

“Please spare us the thought police!” a headline in Bild’s Wednesday edition read.

“The law against online hate speech failed on its very first day. It should be abolished immediately,” said Julian Reichelt, the editor in chief of Bild, according to Reuters, adding that AfD politicians are being regarded as “opinion martyrs” because of the law.

Aside from the barbaric remark, von Storch criticized police for tweeting in Arabic in a so-called sign of solidarity with the Muslims in the country, and also reportedly called followers of the religion “rapist hordes of men.” (RELATED: Germany’s New Hate Speech Law Has Already Triggered Investigations)

Known as the Network Enforcement Act, or NetzDG, the law applies to tech firms like Twitter, Facebook, Google, Snapchat, and YouTube, among some others. It reportedly does not apply to WhatsApp and LinkedIn. If sites fail to remove hate speech from the platform within a 24-hour-period (or 7 days in certain instances decided with dubious criteria), then they could face a 50 million euro ($60 million USD) fine.

When reports of the law — then preliminary or pending — first arose, Facebook denounced it, arguing such government endeavors are dangerous for not only changing how such companies operate, but fundamentally altering free speech protections promised in several countries’ respective constitutions.

“The draft law provides an incentive to delete content that is not clearly illegal when social networks face such a disproportionate threat of fines,” Facebook said in an official statement months ago, according to Business Insider. “It would have the effect of transferring responsibility for complex legal decisions from public authorities to private companies. And several legal experts have assessed the draft law as being against the German constitution and non-compliant with EU [European Union] law.”

Overall, as the Bild shows, the law has only been in place for hours, and it has already garnered a lot of condemnation from many different parts of society and both ends of the general political spectrum.

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