Facebook Moderation Ramps Up In Germany And Everything Keeps Getting Worse For Its Users

from the bad-laws-and-worse-outcomes dept

Germany’s new hate speech law — and its intersection with social media platforms — has been a disaster. Subjecting platforms to millions of Euros in fines for each violation, the push to cleanse the (German) internet of hate speech has resulted in plenty of predictive content policing. When not nuking legal criticism or satire mocking intolerant speech, the new law is creating a moderating nightmare for Facebook and other social media services.

The German wing of Facebook’s moderation employs 1,200 moderators who forward anything borderline to Facebook’s legal team, who then forward close calls they can’t make to another outsourced team of lawyers well-versed in German law. That’s a lot of money spent to avoid 50 million euro fines, but likely necessary given the law’s demand illegal content be removed within 24 hours. Facebook may have to the money to do this, but other platforms simply don’t have the resources. Compliance will result in Germans being given fewer services to choose from, all in the name of “protecting” Germans from hateful speech.

But is the law really serving the German people? Or is it a legislative feel-good effort of marginal utility with the possibility of collecting massive fines the ribbon on top? Linda Kinstler’s long article on Facebook’s proactive moderation efforts in Germany suggests the general public doesn’t need these extra protections as much as the government seems to think they do.

Freedom-of-information disclosures published by the digital-rights website Netzpolitik revealed that no fines have yet been levied for systematic failures to delete posts, and the government has only received 311 requests from citizens requesting that content be removed (25,000 requests were expected)—both revelations suggest social-media companies are at least doing an effective job implementing the law.

Sure, this may suggest companies are staying ahead of the curve when it comes to moderation. It also suggests citizens find “illegal” content far less offensive than their government does. It may also suggest the legislation was completely unnecessary, since companies have been actively nuking content the government doesn’t actually find illegal.

The law is serving an additional purpose — one also unrelated to the sensibilities of German constituents. Political parties have turned the law into a rallying cry, claiming the government is merely trying to censor unpopular views. These claims are being made even as those making them turn to German speech laws to bury criticism of them and their views. Compounding irony with the omnipresent hypocrisy, a speech law enacted to safeguard the nation’s influx of immigrants has become a weapon deployed by Germany’s far-right political wing — one staunchly opposed to the free flow of foreigners across Germany’s borders.

It certainly hasn’t made the average Germany citizen feel any more empowered. Facebook will delete accounts after too many violations, even if the violations are tied to a law the company tends to over-enforce.

“I’m far from being a fan of the far right, but a lot of them are afraid that their postings are deleted because of their beliefs, not because of what they say,” said Jeorg Heidrich, a German internet lawyer and a longtime opponent of the regulation. He said that the NetzDG incentivizes social-media companies to “delete in doubt”—to remove any content that seems like it might be illegal—and he is one of many who have observed a general “chilling” of speech online and offline in Germany. “The NetzDG is on people’s minds,” he said. “Generally, people are more careful what to think, what to write. Lots of people are afraid of losing their accounts.”

As it stands now, the law offers nothing to those on the receiving end of over-moderation. It was put into place with no takedown challenge mechanism other than suing Facebook directly. This is beyond the reach of average citizens, ensuring only a small percentage of users will be able to (possibly) save their accounts from deletion, even if the content removed doesn’t necessarily violate German law.

The law is broken and needs to be fixed. Without this, the indirect repression of speech and other collateral damage will continue. Facebook can’t fix this for the government. All it can do is rely on a team of moderators to get to questionable content before the German government does. This doesn’t leave room for nuance or even consistency. Because Facebook stays ahead of the German speech law, Facebook is the law, as far as most of its German users are concerned. Violating Facebook’s internal guidelines is no different than violating German law, even when the two disagree. Either way, users are one step closer to account deletion and the sanitizing of the internet for German consumption has blunted the effectiveness of the world’s primary communication tool.

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Comments on “Facebook Moderation Ramps Up In Germany And Everything Keeps Getting Worse For Its Users”

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Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

“I’m far from being a fan of the far right, but a lot of them are afraid that their postings are deleted because of their beliefs, not because of what they say,” said Jeorg Heidrich, a German internet lawyer and a longtime opponent of the regulation.

Maybe he’s been studying his nation’s history. Weimar Germany had some very strong hate speech laws, and they enforced them quite effectively, by the standards of those who believe in such things. One of the people who the law came down the hardest upon was a hate-filled ranter by the name of Adolf Hitler. You’d think this was a good thing… except that the Nazi party exploited it quite effectively, using the government’s censorship of Hitler as a rallying cry. The support they got from this turned out to be a significant factor in of their rise to power.

(Not a Godwin, as we’re talking about stuff that’s actually relevant, and in German politics to boot.)

John85851 (profile) says:

Use it against them

How long would it take for a politician to say something “offense”, as in the people expect him to say it, but it runs afoul of the new law?
Then could enough people complain about the politician’s statement and get him or her banned from Facebook or Twitter? If that happened, I suspect the law would be repealed real quick.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Use it against them

Given we’re in a globalized plutocracy where corporations lie in bed with the politicians on expense of the public, established politicians will wield enough power to just have their way. It’s already that way with another German speech law (so called “Beamtenbeleidigung”).

Not so well established politicians, e.g. those from the far right AfD, will not have the influence on Facebook and will likely have to succumb. But as Mason Wheeler writes, they use it to decry their perceived unjust treatment.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Use it against them

that didn’t smack of leftist diatribe at all.

You clearly state that we are in a globalized plutocracy which was greatly helped along by leftist politicians but only felt it was necessary to call out “the far right”.

You have been successfully tricked into playing their game. Stop viewing everything through the lens of your petty politics and realize that you have been playing for the team you thought you have been playing against all alone.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Use it against them

By giving one prominent example of the speech law abusers, which is also referred to in the article, I’m not limiting the list of abusers to the one example.

When you’re on the far right, it’s easy to see everything else as “leftist”. The globalized plutocracy was helped along by neoliberal politics, which is embraced by a broad spectrum of politicians.

In the end, it’s limiting to see politics in a left to right spectrum. Other, more accurate approaches exist: take a look at the political compass for example:


Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Use it against them

That’s not terribly accurate, since I’m basically conservative and it tends to put me far to the left because it takes the current trends in politics and starts from there instead of working from traditional positions. Therefore the only way to get it to call me conservative is to take an authoritarian line on “All The Things!”

The axis should actually run from liberal (personal freedom) to authoritarian.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Use it against them

Eh? I was given to understand that part of the point of The Political Compass is specifically to define the "center" in left vs. right based on the historical definitions of those terms, not the trends of current politics.

And the up/down axis specifically is supposed to be libertarian vs. authoritarian; the left/right axis is supposed to be liberal vs. conservative, which IIRC they define purely in economic-policy terms.

(Part of the point of that is, I believe, supposed to be that people’s actual positions on the left/right axis – as distinct from what is called "left" and "right" in modern politics – may surprise them.)

renato (profile) says:

Re: Use it against them

I do not even have to wait for them to speak something controversial.
Knowing that the moderation is understaffed and will mostly overshoot, you can just dump a ton of complaints in bad faith until some of them stick.

You probably won’t be able to take down any politician.
But as your goal is to cause an impact to change the law, just target small innocent organizations, and wait for the backlash.

Anonymous Coward says:


Sounds like it’s going perfectly!

I can heard the conversation as though it were yesterday.

Citizens: We need to stop hate speech!
Politicians: We have heard your plea’s dear citizens!
WhispersBehindClosedDoors: Okay guys, how can we take advantage of this? Let’s call everything we don’t like hate-speech, it will allow us to silence those we don’t like, they won’t even know what hit them?
MoreWhispersBehindClosedDoors: What if they figure us out?
otherWhispersBehindClosedDoors: We will just say that this is hard to get just right and that if they just let us “politician harder” by asking tech companies to “nerd harder” we will all get through this and the only think the citizens will ever hear again is how great their nation is and will be!

And the people, not even understanding what they have brought upon themselves, will having wailing and gnashing of teeth!

Anonymous Coward says:

Seriously Tim, try reading what you are talking about

Subjecting platforms to millions of Euros in fines for each violation

no fines have yet been levied for systematic failures to delete posts

Wow…this time Tim even quoted somebody stating what the law actually does (fine systematic failures), yet he still repeats his BS about giant fines for each violation. Doesn’t that cognitive dissonance start to hurt at some point?

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