Germany’s New Social Media Hate Speech Laws Begin

The German Government has started 2018 by beginning to enforce its Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz (NetzDG) law which is aimed at cracking down hate speech, fake news and illegal material on social media. The law was passed in June 2017 due to a supposed epidemic of fake news and racist material on German social media sites.

Under the new law social media companies are now held directly liable for the posts which fall afoul of the new law and have 24 hours to remove illegal content or they can face fines of up to 50 million Euros. Germany’s justice ministry has created a form on its website where concerned citizens can report any breaches of the law.

Facebook has reportedly hired several hundred staff in Germany just to deal with breaches of the new law, many people would argue that Facebook doesn’t need any encouragement to censor its users.

This law as been a long time desire of Chancellor Angela Merkel who was caught during a hot mic incident in 2015 telling Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that his company was not doing enough to curtail racist comments relating to the migrant crisis.

In June 2017 German authorities raided the homes of 36 people who were accused of hateful postings over social media, including threats, coercion and incitement to racism while commenting on the migrant crisis.

While the new law is clear exercise in political censorship and an affront to free speech, however Germany is a nation due to its Nazi past and post World War Two Constitution that has always limited the right to free speech.

Already the law is being used to persecute Angela Merkel’s political enemies and opponents of her immigration policy. Beatrix von Storch, the deputy leader of Alternative for Germany (AfD) has been suspended from Facebook and Twitter and is being investigated for hate speech after in response to the Cologne Police tweeting their New Year’s message in Arabic she accused them of appeasing “barbaric, gang-raping Muslim hordes of men”.

Another AfD MP Alice Weidel was also suspended from Twitter and is facing a hate speech investigation for defending von Storch’s social media post by stating “Our authorities submit to imported, marauding, groping, beating, knife-stabbing migrant mobs”.

Cracking down on alleged hate speech particularly by those with right wing or nationalist views has been in the sights of governments around the world in recent times. UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd recently stated she wanted to prosecute those who only view right wing websites and the UK’s Ethics committee wants new laws to curtail what citizens can say about political candidates during election time.

Germany is clearly leading the pack in this regard and only a day into its new hate speech laws it is wasting no time in going after those the law is aimed at without any regard for freedom of speech and not being concerned about appearing to be engaging in political persecution.

Tim Wilms

Tim Wilms is Editor-in-Chief of The Unshackled and host of The Unshackled Waves podcast. He is based in Melbourne, Victoria where he also does field reports.