Germany has begun implementing a law that bans hate speech on social media platforms and forces companies to remove any relevant content.
In just its first day in effect, the law is already being used against Beatrix von Storch, deputy leader of the country’s far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD), according to Deutsche Welle. The politician is under investigation for equating many Muslims to “barbarians” in posts published on Facebook and Twitter. Storch’s Twitter account was allegedly removed for some time, but has since been restored. The Facebook post remains up as of Tuesday morning, but she tweeted later that the company is censoring her.
Facebook hat mich nun auch zensiert.Das ist das Ende des Rechtstaates WEIL: @polizei_nrw_k erstattet Anzeige,StA muß nun Aufhebung Immunität prüfen,dann ermitteln,dann anklagen,dann Gerichtsverfahren,dann Urteil (mir schlottern die Knie).Aber Facebook hat schon geurteilt.q.e.d. pic.twitter.com/pMpKdduqSo
— Beatrix von Storch (@Beatrix_vStorch) January 1, 2018
The law, known as the Network Enforcement Act, or NetzDG, officially came into effect Jan. 1, and applies to tech firms like Twitter, Facebook, Google, Snapchat, and YouTube, according to Deutsche Welle. It reportedly does not apply to WhatsApp and LinkedIn. The applicable companies must identify and purge any complaints of content deemed to convey or include violence, hate, or slander within 24 hours — or seven days if the situation is considered more complex. Any firms that fail to abide by the rules in a timely fashion or entirely will be fined up to 45 million euros (roughly $54.19 million USD).
Germany has been debating over the issue of hateful or misleading content on platforms for quite some time, with companies like Facebook pushing back against such government endeavors, which are not necessarily unique to the European nation.
“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.”
Maintaining a balance between free speech and censoring distasteful content is a hard-pressed task for social media companies like Facebook, especially while operating in foreign countries like E.U. member states, as well as Pakistan and Thailand. (RELATED: Facebook Official Travels To Pakistan After Man Sentenced To Death For Posting ‘Blasphemous’ Content)
Facebook said in November that it removes 99 percent of terrorist content on the platform — like material from or related to ISIS or al-Qaida — before anyone else flags it first.
In America, companies aren’t legally liable for terrorists, other evildoers, using their respective platforms because of laws on the books, like Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and the strong protections of the First Amendment.
Families of victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting last year, for example, filed a federal civil suit against many of those aforementioned companies for providing “the terrorist group ISIS with accounts they use to spread extremist propaganda, raise funds, and attract new recruits.”
The Daily Caller News Foundation reached out to several legal experts and lawyers at the time, and they all said in some way that the grieving families’ cases were for the most part not legitimate in U.S. courts.
But whether it’s terrorist content, or what is just subjectively considered hateful, it’s almost all off limits in Germany, as well as most of Europe in general. Geert Wilders, the far-right leader in the Netherlands, was found guilty in December 2016 for inciting discrimination against Dutch Moroccans by asking a crowd if they want more or less of those kinds of people in the country. He was not ruled guilty of inciting hatred, however, and was also not given any formal fine or sentence, as the criminal conviction was reportedly deemed enough of a penalty for a politician of Wilders’ stature.
Facebook did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for updated comment, specifically the investigation into Storch.
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