A new law that went into effect in Germany on January 1 requires social media companies to remove hate speech and fake news posts within 24 hours of being reported by users.
According to the German media outlet, Deutsche Welle, the new law, known as Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz (NetzDG), impacts “Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram,” but does not apply to “professional networks” such as LinkedIn and Xing, or to messaging platforms likes WhatsApp. It is possible that other photo and video sharing networks – such as Flickr, Vimeo, and the like – could also be bound by NetzDG. Technically speaking, the new law actually went into effect in October, but the German government gave companies a three-month grace period to prepare their organizations and technology to meet the new rule – so it was on January 1st when the NetzDG began to have real “bite.”
“The providers of social networks are responsible when their platforms are misused to propagate hate crimes and fake news,” German Minister of Justice, Heiko Maas, said in a statement last spring when the law was first approved by the German cabinet.
Under the new law, companies will have 24 hours to remove hate speech and fake news posts that breach German law after they are flagged by users. Other illegal content must be deleted within a week of its being reported. Failure to comply can be punished with fines as high as 50 million Euros (nearly $US 60 Million)
Social media providers are taking the threat seriously: Facebook has reportedly hired hundreds of people in Germany to address NetzDG and related monitoring of problematic posts. And, yesterday, in response to an anti-Muslim tweet posted on New Year’s Eve, Twitter suspended the account of Parliament member, Beatrix von Storch, as well as those of other members of her Alternative for Germany (AfD) party who tweeted similar messages in support.
Of course, any law curtailing freedom of speech raises questions about censorship – and, in fact, many Germans have expressed discomfort with the new rules. But, even in America, in which Freedom of Speech is enshrined in the Bill of Rights, free speech has limits. The question that societies around the globe are still working out is simply where to draw the line.