Germany cracks down on internet hate speech

  • 02/07/2017
Germany bands hate speech
A law passed will see social media companies face fines as substantial as $77m if they do not delete illegal, racist or slanderous comments and posts. Photo credit: Newshub.

Germany is cracking down on hate speech posted on social media platforms.

Under a law passed on Saturday (NZ time), social media companies in the country will face fines as substantial as NZ$77 million if they do not delete illegal, racist or slanderous comments and posts within 24 hours of being notified.

The law bolsters Germany's position as one of the most committed nations in the Western world for reigning in online discourse that includes extremist messaging and hate speech.

Justice Minister Heiki Maas said the legislation ensured rules that currently apply offline would be equally enforced in the digital realm.

"With this law, we put an end to the verbal law of the jungle on the internet and protect the freedom of expression for all. 

"We are ensuring that everyone can express their opinion freely, without being insulted or threatened."

In 2015, Germany witnessed an increase in racist comments and anti-immigrant language after the arrival of more than 1 million migrants, predominantly from Muslim countries.

The law will come into effect in October, and will apply to social media sites with more than 2 million users in Germany.

It will require companies to remove all content that is illegal in Germany, such as Nazi symbols or Holocaust denial, within 24 hours of notification; and will issue companies up to seven days to decide on content that has been flagged as offensive, but that may not be clearly defamatory or inciting violence. 

Companies that consistently fail to address complaints by taking too long to respond face fines that start at $7 million, and could rise to as much as $70 million.

Every six months companies will have to publicly report the number of complaints they have received and how these have been resolved.

But the proposition has caused concern about freedom of expression, and both digital and human rights groups - and the companies in question - have opposed the law on the grounds that it places limits on individuals' rights to free expression.

Mr Maas said the new legislation does not equal a limitation, "but [is] a prerequisite for freedom of expression".

The Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin has criticised the legislation, writing that neither the bill nor the ministry of justice provides a clear explanation as to what constitutes "evidently unlawful" content, and what criteria social media platforms should use to make a determination.