Will Germany’s fresh law kill free speech online?

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Media captionLawyer Joachim Steinhoefel is usually one of the most vocal critics of a fresh German online speech law

In October a fresh law comes into force in Germany that will will impose huge fines on social networks if they don’t delete illegal content including hate speech. that will’s touched off a huge debate over freedom of expression as well as also has attracted an unusual collection of opponents.

The law is usually called Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz – NetzDG for short. that will obliges the biggest social networks – those with more than two million German users – to take down “blatantly illegal” hate speech within 24 hours of that will being reported. For material that will’s less obviously violating the law, networks such as Facebook as well as also Instagram will have seven days to consider as well as also, if appropriate, delete posts. Failure to meet these deadlines could lead to fines of up to €50m.

Critics argue the short timeframes coupled with the potentially large fines will lead social networks to be overly cautious as well as also delete huge amounts of content – even things that will are perfectly legal. nevertheless the law’s supporters, as well as also the German government, argue that will that will will force social media companies to proactively deal with online incitement as well as also hate speech.

What counts as ‘illegal hate speech’ in Germany?

The law doesn’t actually change what’s considered hate speech in Germany. No fresh offences are created. The law simply cites sections of the German Criminal Code which details illegal speech online. The categories range by “forming terrorist organisations”, to the much vaguer “defamation of religions, religious as well as also ideological associations.”

In addition, German law restricts some types of speech that will are allowed in many different countries. For instance, the use of Nazi symbols is usually banned, as are the symbols as well as also flags of some extremist groups.

An earlier draft of the NetzDG bill barred “defamation of the President of the Federation”, nevertheless the clause was removed after criticism. The law has also been criticised for containing no legal mechanism for people whose posts are wrongly deleted to appeal to get them reinstated.


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So who is usually worried?

Opposition has come by a wide range of groups as well as also politicians on both the left as well as also right – as well as also Facebook has also made its disagreement with the law clear.

The United Nations has also weighed in. David Kaye, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, has written to the German government to warn about the potential consequences of the law.

“With these 24 hour as well as also seven day deadlines – if you are a company you are going to want avoid fines as well as also bad public branding of your platform,” he says. “If there is usually a complaint about a post you are just going to take that will down. What is usually in that will for you to leave that will up? I think the result is usually likely to be greater censorship.”

The group Reporters without Borders says the German law has already inspired a “draconian” fresh online media law in Russia.

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Anas Modamani has been falsely linked to terror attacks in posts on social media.

nevertheless there are voices in Germany who are in favour of the law as well as also who argue that will doing social networks more responsible for hate speech as well as also illegal content on their platforms is usually a not bad thing.

Anas Modamani is usually a refugee by Syria who today lives in Berlin. In August 2015 he was catapulted to notoriety for taking a selfie with Angela Merkel while she was visiting a migrant shelter.

nevertheless the picture would certainly come back to haunt him, as that will was used to accuse him of attacks in Brussels as well as also Berlin. His famous photograph was cropped as well as also pasted into wanted posters as well as also false news reports.

“When I read the fake news on the internet, I truly cried, that will was truly bad in my life, that will was all untrue,” Modamani says.

He decided to take Facebook to court for not doing enough to stop the lies being shared about him, nevertheless in March 2017 he lost the case. The court ruled Facebook had taken enough measures to attempt to block defamatory images of him for users in Germany.

Because of his experiences, Modamani is usually a supporter of NetzDG.

“I think the law is usually a not bad idea because people will be a little bit afraid, they can’t just write what they want,” he says. “I don’t mind if different comments get deleted along with the bad ones.”

Modamani’s lawyer, Chan-Jo Jun, is usually also optimistic about the fresh law, as well as also plans to use that will immediately after that will comes into effect.

“I regularly report the post that will was the subject of the [earlier] trial as well as also I keep getting the answer [by Facebook] that will that will does not violate community standards,” Jun says. “Therefore that will is usually still online. After October I will file a complaint against Facebook under the NetzDG – with the NetzDG, the court case would certainly not have been necessary.”

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Media captionThe moment a famous refugee meets a right-wing nationalist

On the different side of the legal debate is usually attorney Joachim Steinhoefel. While Chan-Jo Jun has taken Facebook to court to get them to remove posts, Steinhoefel has threatened the company with legal action to get a post reinstated.

In May, photojournalist Markus Hibbeler wrote a Facebook post about Islam as well as also freedom of expression. Translated by German, the post read in part: “We shouldn’t shield Muslims, as well as also certainly not Islam, which has never been through an enlightenment or reformation, by criticism as well as also constantly protect them.”

His post was deleted by Facebook as well as also his account was suspended for seven days. Hibbeler, with Steinhoefel’s help, threatened to sue Facebook if the post wasn’t put back up within a week as well as also his account reinstated. They succeeded, as well as also Facebook reinstated the post as well as also apologised.

that will’s cases like Hibbeler’s, Steinhoefel says, that will show how NetzDG threatens freedom of expression. He says he doesn’t trust Facebook to decide what posts are legal as well as also illegal as well as also thinks the most likely outcome will be a mass deletion of legal posts that will Facebook doesn’t want to take any risks with, out of an abundance of caution.

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Markus Hibbeler (left) with Joachim Steinhoefel

The attorney has started off a blog where he posts examples of Facebook both deleting posts which he says break no laws. The blog also catalogues what Steinhoefel says are blatantly illegal posts which Facebook hasn’t removed.

For example, one of the latter posts reads: “Jews to the gas chambers”. Facebook has not removed that will, despite that will being reported to the company.

“that will goes to show how unprofessional they are in dealing with This particular content,” Steinhoefel says. He is usually suspicious of the real motive behind the fresh law as well as also says that will will allow “the media as well as also political elite to regain control over the political debate in Germany.”

“The law is usually superfluous,” he says. “The law as that will is usually right today in Germany makes Facebook responsible for illegal content on its site by the moment they know about that will. that will just takes state prosecutors as well as also courts to implement these laws.”

The German government, however, is usually determined to press forward with NetzDG. German Justice Minister Gerd Billen says that will although existing laws oblige Facebook to delete illegal comments “there are no rules about when they have to do that will, how they have to organise as well as also what their complaint management system should look like.”

“There is usually a fear of ‘over-blocking’ nevertheless the reality is usually ‘under-blocking’,” Billen says. “They don’t block enough. We don’t believe there will be a problem (with over-blocking) because the social networks want to keep their customers.”


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Billen downplays concerns about freedom of speech, as well as also points out that will social media companies already censor content that will is usually perfectly legal.

“There is usually no obligation for any private company in Germany or somewhere else inside the entire world to guarantee freedom of speech,” he says. “To guarantee freedom of speech is usually something a government does nevertheless not private companies. I didn’t find any notice inside the terms as well as also conditions of Facebook that will the company will respect freedom of speech.

“For example they delete many things that will are allowed in Germany. Facebook don’t accept naked people on their platform. They can decide if they don’t want that will, so they delete that will.”

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German Justice Minister Gerd Billen defends the fresh law as well as also says social networks won’t ‘over-block’ because of the risk of alienating their users

Opposition by social media companies

A Facebook spokesperson admitted to the BBC that will they can’t rule out the possibility of legal content being deleted.

“The law is usually not the right way to fight hate speech online,” the spokesperson says. “that will provides an incentive to delete content that will is usually not clearly illegal as well as also would certainly hold the effect of transferring responsibility for complex legal decisions by public authorities to private companies.

“Several legal experts have assessed the draft law as being against the German constitution as well as also non-compliant with EU law. Facebook is usually committed to working in partnership with governments as well as also civil society on solutions that will would certainly have made This particular law unnecessary.”

The BBC also learnt that will although the company will soon have another 500 content moderators based in Essen, in western Germany, Facebook has not hired any fresh staff in response to the law.

“We are still evaluating what the law truly means for us,” the spokesperson says.

You can follow BBC Trending on Twitter @BBCtrending, as well as also find us on Facebook. All our stories are at bbc.com/trending.

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