Germany passes controversial law to fine Facebook over hate speech

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German lawmakers have passed a controversial law under which Facebook, Twitter, and other social media companies could face fines of up to €50 million ($57 million) for failing to remove hate speech. The Network Enforcement Act, commonly referred to as the “Facebook law,” was passed by the Bundestag, Germany’s parliamentary body, on Friday. It will go into effect in October.

Under the law, social media companies would face steep fines for failing to remove “obviously illegal” content — including hate speech, defamation, and incitements to violence — within 24 hours. They would face an initial fine of €5 million, which could rise to €50 million. Web companies would have up to one week to decide on cases that are less clear cut.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas and other supporters of the bill have argued that it is necessary to curb the spread of hate speech, which is strictly regulated under German law. But digital rights activists have broadly criticized the law, saying it would infringe on free speech, and that it gives tech companies disproportionate responsibility in determining the legality of online content.

“Experience has shown that, without political pressure, the large platform operators will not fulfill their obligations, and this law is therefore imperative,” Maas said in an address Friday, adding that “freedom of expression ends where criminal law begins.”

“We believe the best solutions will be found when government, civil society and industry work together and that this law as it stands now will not improve efforts to tackle this important societal problem,” a Facebook spokesperson said in an email statement. “We feel that the lack of scrutiny and consultation do not do justice to the importance of the subject. We will continue to do everything we can to ensure safety for the people on our platform.”

A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment on the passage of the law.

Germany has in recent years intensified efforts to crack down on hate speech, amid a rise in anti-migrant sentiment that has been fueled in part by the ongoing refugee crisis. Facebook, Twitter, and Google agreed to remove such content from their platforms within 24 hours, under a 2015 deal with the German government, but a 2017 report commissioned by the Justice Ministry found that the companies were still failing to meet their commitments. Earlier this month, German police raided 36 homes over social media posts that allegedly contained hateful content, following a similar operation that targeted 60 people last year.

Social media companies are facing pressure to remove hate speech, fake news, and terrorist propaganda from European Union leaders, as well. Last month, the European Council approved a set of proposals that would require web companies to block any videos that contain hate speech or incitements to terrorism. Maas has also called for Europe-wide regulations on hate speech and fake news.

Facebook and Google have launched campaigns to combat fake news and hate speech in recent months, with Facebook recently announcing that it would hire an additional 3,000 people over the next year to moderate flagged content. The social network explained the complexity in moderating hate speech in a recent blog post, as part of its “hard questions” series, but it faced renewed criticism this week after a ProPublica investigation detailed Facebook’s confusing internal systems that underpin its hate speech policy.

EDRi, a Brussels-based digital rights group, criticized the bill’s passage in a blog post published ahead of Friday’s vote. “[Social media] companies are, quite rationally, driven by the motivation to avoid liability, using the cheapest options available, and to exploit the political legitimization of their restrictive measures for profit,” writes Maryant Fernández Pérez, senior policy adviser at EDRi. “This can only lead to privatized, unpredictable online censorship.”

Update June 30th, 6:04AM ET: This article was updated to include a statement from Facebook.

Comments

they should have started hiring localized editors with enough language skills for screening flagged content and flagged accounts ages ago

Absolutely.

Under the law, social media companies would face steep fines for failing to remove "obviously illegal" content — including hate speech, defamation, and incitements to violence…

Two of these things are – and should be – prosecutable, one is not, nor should it be.

Can you name them?

No, all three are illegal and prosecutable in the Germany.
I’m guessing you mean ‘hate speech’ as the exception but it is as defined in EU Framework Decision 2008/913/JHA and in the German Criminal Code (called Volksverhetzung in German)

I was thinking that "defamation" was the outlier, since it’s almost always a civil matter – how do you want the police to enforce "he’s lying about me"?

By stating the facts about the person?

Its illegal to spread lies about people, we have a similar laws in Denmark.

TIL. Thanks!

Any such laws in US?
Is everyone allowed to lie and defame others without consequences or its only presidents?

i guess not , because of freedom . .

The USA has libel and slander laws concerning defamation, however the criteria is very specific under which they can be used, for instance the offending party has to be making a statement they know to be false. This might not be wholly accurate, but it means stating "That person is a murderer" is defamation, but stating "I think that person is a murderer" is not defamation because the statement is presented as an opinion, not as a fact.

The US and UK have similar positions on defamation – it’s a civil matter. (It’s probably the same in other countries with legal systems based on the old English courts, so Canada, Australia, New Zealand?)

As I understand it, if I was to state that, say, "Nilay Patel hates ice cream", in the UK system the burden of proof is on me to back that up. In US courts, for Nilay to sue me he would have to prove that he actually likes ice cream, probably by eating a big tub of it in front of the jury. I assume in the European systems talked about here, Nilay would have to go to the police and provide some kind of evidence that he likes ice cream, and they would then arrest me?

Fun trivia: Elton John once sued the Daily Mirror newspaper for libel for saying he was gay, and he won the case under UK law. He wouldn’t have been able to win that in the US – would the reporter who wrote the piece have gone to jail in Denmark?

Not the case in most of Europe although it is in the UK

Defamation is prosecutable in German criminal law (§§185 ff. StGB, which includes false statements of facts and defamatory statements of opinion) and you can sue for damages in a civil law case (§§823 I and 826 BGB).
However in both cases the court has to take the German constitution into account, which guarantees freedom of speech (Art. 5 I 1 GG), so there is a limit.
I don’t really understand which issue there is with enforcing these laws, if you violate the criminal laws best case scenario you will have to pay some money to the court and the civil case is basically done because you’ve been proven guilty of violating criminal law, so you’ll have to pay damages (§823 II BGB) – worst case scenario and only if you knowingly published a wrong fact you will go to jail for five years (journalists have special ways of getting out of these claims similar to the changes the UK made in the 2013 Defamation Act, in case you’re worried)

Good. Facebook reaching 2billion users has made it’s influence too big to ignore. It also doesn’t help that the US president uses Twitter to spread hate speech almost everyday.

"Controversial?"

This is about as controversial as forcing an employer to pay their employees the legal minimum wage.

It’s controversial to Americans, they have universal "free speech" which means they’re allowed to yell hate speech at the top of their lungs. No I don’t get it either.

Someone needs to define what is considered Hate Speech in Germany, based on other things I’ve read, it’s a far more broad category than many other nations.

(1) Anyone who, in a manner which is likely to disturb public peace,
1.
Against a national, racial, religious or ethnic group, against members of the population or against an individual because of his or her membership of a group or a part of the population, or to violence or arbitrariness
Second
Attacks the human dignity of others by cursing or slandering a malicious group, a part of the population or an individual because of their belonging to a designated group or to a part of the population,
Will be punished with imprisonment of three months to five years.
(2) A sentence of up to three years’ imprisonment or a fine shall be imposed on anyone who:
1.
(Article 11 (3)) or make it available to the public or make available, make available or made accessible to a person under eighteen years of age a document (§ 11 (3)) which:
a)
To hatred of a group referred to in paragraph 1 (1), against members of the population or against an individual because of his or her membership of a group referred to in paragraph 1 (1) or of a part of the population,
b)
To violence or arbitrary measures against persons or persons referred to in subparagraph (a), or
c)
Attacks the human dignity of persons or pluralities of persons referred to in letter (a) by abusing, maliciously condemning or slandering them,
Second
(A) to ©, by means of broadcasting or telemedia, of a person under eighteen years of age or of the public, or
Third
(S) (s) (s) (s) of the content referred to in points (a) to © of paragraph 1 (a) to © Number 1 or number 2 or to allow such other use to another person.
(3) A criminal offense of up to five years or a fine shall be punished by a public offense committed under the rule of national socialism of the kind described in § 6 (1) of the Code of Criminal Law in a manner which is likely to disturb public peace Or in a meeting, denies or trivializes.
(4) A sentence of up to three years’ imprisonment or a fine shall be imposed on anyone who publicly or in a meeting disrupts public peace in a manner which is detrimental to the dignity of the victims by endorsing, glorifying or justifying the national socialist violence and arbitrariness.
(5) Paragraph 2 (1) and (3) shall also apply to a document (Article 11 (3)) of the content referred to in paragraphs 3 and 4. Paragraph 2 (2) also punishes anyone who makes a content referred to in paragraphs 3 and 4 accessible by means of radio or telemedia of a person under eighteen years or the public.
(6) In the cases referred to in paragraph 2 (1) and (2), also in conjunction with paragraph 5, the attempt is punishable.
(7) Section 86 (3) shall apply mutatis mutandis in the cases referred to in paragraph 2, also in conjunction with paragraph 5, and in the cases referred to in paragraphs 3 and 4.

Google translation of Section 130 of German Penal Code

Also applicable

it’s a far more broad category than many other nations.

Understandable given their history.

Merkel comes from Eastern Germany, she is used to totalitarian society where government controls people’s opinions and has tools to suppress dissent and opposition. The new law as well as existing ones are all in line of this thinking.

Things like hate speech can be understood quite arbitrary, despite even the best intentions. However, real hate speech does exist, and the only major country that protects in under free speech principle is the USA; all other major countries do not have that.

The US professes to protect free speech but the reality is a lot different. It’s a case of whoever has the money and shouts loudest gets heard.

True, the oligarchy that owns both all major media and politicians control the loudest free speech mouthpieces and whole narrative. However, on individual level free speech does exist (except for things like promises to commit violence), and this is not the case in other major countries.

It’s disheartening watching Europe commit suicide. They are fanatical in their efforts to protect that which is destroying them.

EU countries regulate US companies that operate within their boarder to the same standards at EU companies. Somehow this is destroying EU.

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