As of January of 2018, the Ministry of Justice in Germany enforced the Network Enforcement Act to monitor content considered hate speech. This new law, called “NetzDG”, makes social media networks responsible for their users’ content and must remove any content deemed illegal within 24 hours. The consequences for not removing the content could be as high at 50 million euros.
This law applies to most of the major social media networks including Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram.
NetzDG poses a lot of issues for content for European and specifically German audiences to avoid getting your account suspended, mostly because of the amount of gray area in this new law. Because the law is so vague, context does not matter. Sharing, criticizing, and mocking hate speech can be deemed hate speech itself.
Another issue with this new law comes from the source itself that hate speech can be deemed offensive, violent, or threatening can be up to interpretation because there is no definition in German law. This follows the issue then of ‘overblocking’ and deleting any content that may be on the fence to be safe against the large fine. But in this case, there’s an even bigger issue at hand with people’s right to freedom of expression.
Overblocking threatens users’ ability to freely post and share their opinions on social media and will potentially discourage people to share their views online.
This is a very big and interesting situation in Germany, especially as a country that was previously under communist rule. The fall of the communist regime took away the past issues of limited freedom in broadcasting of any kind. It’s an eerily similar blast from the past being regulated when it is not always necessary.
It will be interesting to see how the situation plays out in Germany and if it will later apply to other European countries or outside of the EU.
It’s very interesting how social media so rapidly became a prominent source of news and politics. It is also interesting to see how posting a Tweet can turn into cybercrime and can be considered a legitimate threat.
As a U.S. citizen I question if this situation would happen in America and what chaos it would cause. In the recent years, social media has played a huge role in our politics. Trumps campaign and presidency, police brutality, and gun control have been major topics covering social media feeds and I can only imagine the backlash our government would receive for threatening our first amendment.
Overall, although NetzDG intent to civilize debates online it more importantly threatens freedom of expression and resembles the beginning of a terrifyingly Black Mirror episode that isn’t too far off from our future.