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.