By ALAN ANSTEAD
On 1 January 2018 a new law will come into force in Germany that gets tough on online giants (such as Fecebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google) to remove extremist, hate speech and defamatory fake news material published on or accessible via their platforms.
After two years of a European Commission-brokered self-regulatory agreement with the major internet companies, and nice meetings every six months to exchange views, that has produced few tangible responses to stemming the flow of hate material online, the German Parliament has decided it is time to act unilaterally.
The European Commission prefers a self-regulatory approach, and appears to dislike what it describes as a patchwork of national laws. But there are indications from the latest round of nice talks that the Commission’s patience with the internet companies is wearing thin.
The German legislation enforces the country’s existing limits on hate speech, with fines of up to €50 million if internet companies continuously fail to remove illegal content within a week. There is also provision in the law that the IT company’s person responsible for handling complaints of hate material can be fined up to €5 million.
In addition the internet companies are compelled to submit six monthly reports on what they have done to reduce hate material, with evidence. German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said “Freedom of speech ends where criminal law begins”, and cites the 300% increase in hate crimes in Germany over the last two years as the grounds for this new law.
Facebook are of course upset. They will have to spend more money on better moderation of content published on their site. They claim there hasn’t been sufficient consultation. The German Justice Minister responded that after 14 months of consultation with these companies that achieved nothing, it was time to act.
Time too, UK government, to look again at our archaic laws that cover online hate speech that were enacted before any of the social media platforms were established? Follow the lead of Germany and stop thinking that we have the best legislation in Europe.