For The Second Time In A Week, German Hate Speech Laws Results In Deletion Of Innocent Speech

from the hate-speech-law-takes-on-law-of-unintended-consequences;-loses-immediately dept

It’s going to be a fun few months for German government officials as they run from one embarrassing fire to the next, hoping to keep their newly-minted “hate speech” law from being scrapped for sheer ineptitude.

The law went live January 1st, promising hefty fines for social media companies if they don’t remove poorly-defined “hate speech” fast enough. This has resulted in exactly the sort of side effects the law’s critics promised. The only remarkable thing is how fast the side effects have presented themselves.

Within 72 hours of the law’s debut, a satirical post mocking a German’s politician’s bigoted words was deleted by Twitter in an apparently proactive move. The 24-hour window for content removal is backed by €50m fines for each violation. Given the amount of money on the line, it’s no surprise social media companies are trying to stay ahead of Germany’s government when it comes to regulating speech. It’s also no surprise Twitter, et al are relying heavily on users to help narrow down which questionable posts it should be looking at.

You can already see where this is headed. For the second time in less than a week, Twitter has pulled the trigger on an innocent tweet. And, again, the entity whose tweet has been deleted is big enough to attract the attention of German lawmakers.

Germany signalled on Monday it was open to amending a controversial law combatting online hate speech as the justice minister fell victim to the rules he himself championed.

The move came after Twitter deleted a post by Heiko Maas dating back to 2010 before he was appointed justice minister, in which he called a fellow politician “an idiot”.

The post was deleted after Twitter received several complaints, fuelling a simmering row over the new regulation which critics say stifle freedom of speech.

Proponents of laws targeting speech tend to believe the law will operate in a pristine vacuum where only the purest of intentions will be honored. Anyone operating outside of this mindset knows exactly how speech-targeting laws work in real life: exactly like this, where an internet dogpile resulted in the deletion of a tweet that didn’t even meet the expansive definitions of hate speech handed down by the German government.

As a result of multiple, high-profile false positives, many German politicians are now complaining about the law and demanding it be altered or struck down. But even with political sentiment swiftly turning against the just-enacted law, the German government will apparently take a wait-and-see approach to touching up the law.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said an evaluation would be carried out within six months to examine how well the new law was working.

The way things are going, it’s doubtful the law will make it six weeks before being clawed back for a rewrite.

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Comments on “For The Second Time In A Week, German Hate Speech Laws Results In Deletion Of Innocent Speech”

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32 Comments
aerinai (profile) says:

Best learning tool ever

In some ways I’m happy that this law passed. It will be used as a case study for all future administrations and freedom-of-speech advocates on what NOT to do. Too many times these laws never make it this far (for good reason) and all pundits have are hypothetical harms, which are easy to ignore. Harder to ignore something like this… silver linings and all…

Too much to hope that this will help stop SESTA here in the States?

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

Re: Best learning tool ever

“It will be used as a case study for all future administrations and freedom-of-speech advocates on what NOT to do.”

It will be roundly ignored. If not ignored, dismissed as an anomaly, or because “now we know better, we’ll get it right this time!” Because we’re smarter than our ignorant ancestors, yo. There’s all kinds of historic evidence that this is what happens, thus Techdirt being able to predict.

Anonymous Coward says:

What's the loss in this 7 year old "tweet"? -- And out of HOW MANY MILLION REMARKS MADE THIS YEAR?

First, this is Techdirt’s characteristic “sky is falling” panic from one raindrop. Techdirt jeers others who spot trends from one data point, but can’t see how silly this re-write is if gave ANY numbers.

Next, at least show NEW loss. This appears to be targeted searching back — SEVEN YEARS — for purpose of “proving” the point — which Techdirt happily re-writes.

ShadowNinja (profile) says:

Re: What's the loss in this 7 year old "tweet"? -- And out of HOW MANY MILLION REMARKS MADE THIS YEAR?

So, you’re fine with censoring tweets that use the word ‘idiot’ because it’s ‘hate speech’?

If calling a politician an idiot is hate speech and enough to get your posts deleted, then we might as well declare saying anything bad about anyone is now hate speech.

Because really, if “Politician is an idiot” is hate speech, how is “Politician sucks at their job” not hate speech to?

Anonymous Coward says:

It was Twitter which "didn't even meet the expansive definitions of hate speech".

Clearly Twitter has an interest in making this apper abad.

Using your own “one instance condemns” standard and noting that it’s Twitter TWICE NOW, then clearly Twitter is engaged in a pattern of falsehoods trying to reverse the law.

Sharur (profile) says:

Re: It was Twitter which "didn't even meet the expansive definitions of hate speech".

But the law puts the onus on Twitter, et al, to remove content, within 24hrs of posting, not governmental complaint. It also, incorrectly, in my opinion, targets not only companies, are able to afford to fight this in court, but also individual employees, which cannot. It is, in my opinion, a bad law, simply on the merits of its fine structure and lack of due process; and in the words of Abraham Lincon: "The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it strictly." Strict enforcement of this law is showing its true colors.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It was Twitter which "didn't even meet the expansive definitions of hate speech".

Of course they do. BECAUSE IT IS BAD!!!

But just because a bad law gets passed and bad things happen as a result to prove everyone who was against it right, doesn’t mean those people deliberately engineered those events.

Correlation does not equal causation, or something like that. Also Occam’s Razor.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It was Twitter which "didn't even meet the expansive definitions of hate speech".

If your underlying point is that there is nothing wrong with hiding or deleting speech even when it’s perfectly legal or harmless, on that we might be able to agree.

I agree there’s nothing wrong with hiding the spam you vomit so readily.

Anonymous Coward says:

But was the politicians account deleted?

That would be the best solution.

Twitter should simply start deleting German accounts. Find a bad word. A snarky phrase. A rude analogy comparing someone’s face with their interchangeable ass. Go back to their very beginning. In fact, go through their published anything, facebook, texts, websites, website comments.

Delete! For the win.

That One Guy (profile) says:

That would do it

The move came after Twitter deleted a post by Heiko Maas dating back to 2010 before he was appointed justice minister, in which he called a fellow politician "an idiot".

It was all fun and games until they realized that oh yeah, it can be used against them, and now suddenly they care.

Ideally they’d scrap the entire thing, but I can’t help but suspect the ‘six month review’ is, like Jeffrey Nonken notes, a hope that no more high profile(read: famous person and/or politician) cases will draw attention to how bad it is so that it can stay on the books.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yes and no I imagine. Companies being forced to remove stuff on the flimsiest accusation to avoid ruinous fines? Yeah, pretty sure that was intended.

High-profile cases coming so soon after the law is put into place, bringing attention to it and opposition given who is being targeted? That I imagine they would rather not have happened.

Charles Labianco (profile) says:

Censorship - How To Do It

State clearly that sexually, vulgar name calling comments will not be published. That way, you will not be wasting time and space(money) on such comments.
Other name calling comments can be published IF THEY ARE EXPLAINED. Example: “Trump is a criminal because he supports the crimes against the Palestinians executed by the Israeli government. His support was indicated in his recognition of the desire of Israel to move its capital to Jerusalem. ” [ regardless of whether or not such a comment is factual or logical. ] In the explanation, the commentator will be offering and exposing hiser ( his or her ) supposed logic, which is open toward other people’s logic. Such commentary will then convince or be convinced in the forum of “debate”.

You will still be “censoring” but your censorship will be allowing “freedom of expression of rational ideas” , of “political commentary” , of “ideas of language and logic”. Yes, you will be censoring only sexually vulgar expressions.

Essentially, describing a person “as acting in a criminal manner indicated by “such and such” is not “name calling”. Name calling is the act of putting a label on something without rationalizing it.
Calling someone a “war hawk” is name calling. Saying that someone is a “war hawk BECAUSE they have advocated bombing or using military force to stop ISIS or Assad ” is a rationalization; an explanation for the label, the name, the adjective: “war hawkish”. Such a label AND its rationalization can be argued against. It also exposes the commentator ‘s logic or lack of logic to criticisms of other people in the world. The commentator can be praised , or embarrassed by his lack of logic. People can learn from such commentary.

Can I get a subscription to articles that are published by Freedom of the Press Foundation?

Char (profile) says:

Censorship - How To Do It

Censorship – How To Do It
State clearly that sexually, vulgar name calling comments will not be published. That way, you will not be wasting time and space(money) on such comments.
Other name calling comments can be published IF THEY ARE EXPLAINED. Example: “Trump is a criminal because he supports the crimes against the Palestinians executed by the Israeli government. His support was indicated in his recognition of the desire of Israel to move its capital to Jerusalem. ” [ regardless of whether or not such a comment is factual or logical. ] In the explanation, the commentator will be offering and exposing hiser ( his or her ) supposed logic, which is open toward other people’s logic. Such commentary will then convince or be convinced in the forum of “debate”.

You will still be “censoring” but your censorship will be allowing “freedom of expression of rational ideas” , of “political commentary” , of “ideas of language and logic”. Yes, you will be censoring only sexually vulgar expressions.

Essentially, describing a person “as acting in a criminal manner indicated by “such and such” is not “name calling”. Name calling is the act of putting a label on something without rationalizing it.
Calling someone a “war hawk” is name calling. Saying that someone is a “war hawk BECAUSE they have advocated bombing or using military force to stop ISIS or Assad ” is a rationalization; an explanation for the label, the name, the adjective: “war hawkish”. Such a label AND its rationalization can be argued against. It also exposes the commentator ‘s logic or lack of logic to criticisms of other people in the world. The commentator can be praised , or embarrassed by his lack of logic. People can learn from such commentary.

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