German Hate Speech Law Goes Into Effect, Turning Social Media Platforms Into Gov't Revenue Generators

from the gentlemen:-start-your-paperwork dept

Social media platforms doing business in Germany can look forward to a year filled with fines of up to €50m. Germany's hate speech law went into effect on January 1st, providing the country with a new revenue stream it can tap into for the rest of whatever.

The Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz (NetzDG) law was passed at the end of June 2017 and came into force in early October.

The social networks were given until the end of 2017 to prepare themselves for the arrival of NetzDG.

The law gives social media platforms 24 hours to remove "obviously illegal" content. This, of course, raises the question about how obvious "obviously illegal" content needs to be to trigger the 24-hour deletion requirement. Presumably, the government gets to decide how "obvious" the illegality is and how often it gets to collect millions of euros.

In what must be considered a show of government largesse, one week will be allowed to handle "complex" removal orders -- again, something likely determined solely by the German government. Given Germany's ultra-weird relationship with its Nazi past, the difference between complex and simple takedown demands isn't likely to be clear cut, putting companies in the path of fines and further German government grousing.

I understand that American companies are somewhat obliged to follow local laws when providing services overseas, but they should not be put in the position of being held criminally and civilly liable for the posts of their users. They can attempt to moderate content with an eye on local statutes, but the fines for posting "obviously illegal" content should be levied on the person posting it, rather than the service provider.

This ridiculous shifting of liability is even more egregious in Germany. Not only are service providers fined for not removing illegal content, EMPLOYEES of these companies can be directly fined as well.

[T]he law also provides for fines of up to €5m for the person each company designates to deal with the complaints procedure if it doesn’t meet requirements.

We often see government officials claiming the billions of dollars in profits Google, Facebook, et al rack up somehow should result in perfect compliance with every esoteric, content-related complaint worldwide. But no one's claimed individual employees tasked with government compliance are callous billionaires, and yet the German hate speech law makes that equation with its willingness to bankrupt individuals for not responding to government removal demands fast enough.

There are concerns in Germany this law could lead to government censorship and a restriction of free speech. These concerns have already materialized somewhat indirectly. A regime with an interest in censorship and curtailing criticism has already pushed out a carbon-copy of Germany's law. This gives Russia the opportunity to push companies into performing censorship on its behalf, with Germany to point at when critics start questioning Russia's actions.


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  • icon
    TheResidentSkeptic (profile), 3 Jan 2018 @ 8:17am

    Please Define

    "Social Media Platform". Let's see - the web is entirely social as every page shares information with all its viewers; anything published in a readable format is by definition "media"; and every server is a "platform". So - the abuse of this law will expand to EVERY website they don't like. It may start with the "Big Boys" - but this will have scope creep that moves at velocities above the speed of light.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2018 @ 9:59am

      Re: Please Define

      Will you please NOT PUT WORDS IN ALL CAPS?

      I've been lectured on that in just prior piece, but seems rules NEVER apply to fanboys.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2018 @ 10:03am

        Re: Re: Please Define

        grow up baby

        if you run around expecting everyone to bend to your rules of decorum you are a sad little human

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2018 @ 11:23am

        Re: Re: Please Define

        But WHY though?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 4 Jan 2018 @ 1:16am

        Re: Re: Please Define

        One word is fine. Random words through multiple sentences, with the sole aim of trying to attract people trying to scroll past otherwise inane drivel, not so much.

        Perhaps you'd understand this if you spent as much time learning the ACTUAL opinions being typed as you do whining about people hiding your nonsense, you'd understand this ;)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 3 Jan 2018 @ 8:39am

    Ah Germany, why won't you learn from your history?

    I'd like to see platforms pulling their physical presence from Germany just to avoid the insane burden this will put on them. But what's probably gonna happen is they will set their filtering algorithms to "North Korea" and turn the experience for Germans into a big, warm wasteland.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2018 @ 9:52am

      Re:

      History teaches one lesson.

      Humans are bad at learning from it. But it's not like you would understand anything about that.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Roger Strong (profile), 3 Jan 2018 @ 10:16am

      Re:

      Ah Germany, why won't you learn from your history?

      To be clear, they only have to look back 20 years.

      NYT (1997): Germany Charges Compuserve Manager

      (...for pornography and Nazi swastikas on foreign web sites after CompuServe connected to the internet.)

      NYT (1999): German Court Overturns Pornography Ruling Against CompuServe

      Mr. Somm is ''a slave of the parent company,'' said the court's chief judge, Laszlo Ember. Taking note that Mr. Somm had briefly tried to block access to a number of Internet sites, later giving up because the blockade proved unmanageable, Judge Ember said Mr. Somm had done all he could.

      Granted, that case was about merely letting the material travel across their networks, not about hosting it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 3 Jan 2018 @ 8:50am

    Well that's one way to clear out the employee roster...

    [T]he law also provides for fines of up to €5m for the person each company designates to deal with the complaints procedure if it doesn’t meet requirements.

    Otherwise known as 'the job no sane person would ever accept.'

    Five million personal liability? Even someone desperate for a job would be smart to quit on the spot the second they were given that job, as a single fine would have the ability to bankrupt them. Having to look for another job would be vastly more preferable to having your finances utterly demolished in one blow, something I imagine most people will realize pretty quick.

    Fifty million for the company, five million for anyone stupid enough to take the position of scapegoat... I can't help but wonder how many times a company will be hit or threatened with fines like that before they crunch the numbers and decide that it's simply not worth the risk operating in Germany at all.

    They can attempt to moderate content with an eye on local statutes, but the fines for posting "obviously illegal" content should be levied on the person posting it, rather than the service provider.

    Facebook can afford to pay a large fine(how often they'll be willing to do so is another matter), a random poster isn't likely to be able to, and if they're doing it for the money(as I suspect is the case), then going after the party with a large bank account makes much more sense.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 3 Jan 2018 @ 11:38am

      Re: Well that's one way to clear out the employee roster...

      Or rather they'll decide it's worth to keep the revenue and err in excess so when you mention your teacher is a nazi because kids do that you will have your account terminated. Of course, in the long run it will mean social networks that don't have operations inside of Germany will gain much more traction. I wonder if they'll go full Godwin and start the Great German Wall to deal with it...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ShadowNinja (profile), 3 Jan 2018 @ 12:07pm

      Re: Well that's one way to clear out the employee roster...

      The most ironic part of the $5 million dollar fine for employees is that it'll likely make sure that more 'obviously illegal' content stays up longer.

      Because if you can't find anyone to take the job with a $5 million dollar penalty for screwing up (which is sure to be at least 20 years worth of salary), then who is going to remove the illegal content?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2018 @ 9:57am

    Yot, corporations are responsible to the public.

    That fact, not new, based on an entire century of law, practice and knowledge of how corporations behave when not heavily regulated, just sends Techdirt into fury.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2018 @ 10:06am

      Re: Yot, corporations are responsible to the public.

      Solvent abuse is a terrible thing. On the other hand it is fun to watch you suffer the effects of it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2018 @ 10:24am

      Re: Yot, corporations are responsible to the public.

      Except this law is not about regulating corporations, but rather forcing corporations to regulate what people are allowed to say.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2018 @ 10:28am

        Re: Re: Yot, corporations are responsible to the public.

        forcing corporations to censor that which some people do not want published.

        ftfy

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      An Onymous Coward (profile), 3 Jan 2018 @ 11:52am

      Re: Yot, corporations are responsible to the public.

      Corporations are responsible for their own behavior, not mine. They cannot exist as a social media platform and take responsibility for everything posted therein at the same time. What you continuously espouse in your rants is not possible.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2018 @ 10:00am

    What if one of the Hate Speech SS-Obersturmführer leaders posts hate speech from an official account?

    The official account will be fined, but in summarizing the hate speech will itself commit hate speech and be fined.

    This becomes an endless circle until the Government starts putting yellow stars on Youtubers and rounding them up into special "video re-education" camps.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2018 @ 10:01am

    Uberfuhere Merkel, we have simplified the process of "complex takedowns".

    How?

    We simply takedown the original poster using a rifle.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2018 @ 10:05am

    Should work to put the liability on "callous billionaires".

    Poor people will see the risk and simply NOT take the job (unless full insurance is provided). Liability will then percolate up to the greedy RICH, as should. Those who get the big bucks ARE responsible and liable, regardless what the "laws" they paid politicians to pass say about "limited liability": COMMON LAW over-arches all. -- That's why though all that Nazi did was "legal", people were yet hung for crimes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2018 @ 10:22am

      Re: Should work to put the liability on "callous billionaires".

      Liability will then percolate up to the greedy RICH, as should.

      So typical. A company does well, the CEO get the bonus. A company does poorly, some poor working smuck gets the fine.

      If the CEO gets the bonus, he should also get the fine.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      An Onymous Coward (profile), 3 Jan 2018 @ 11:54am

      Re: Should work to put the liability on "callous billionaires".

      Those who get the big bucks ARE responsible and liable, regardless what the "laws" they paid politicians to pass say about "limited liability": COMMON LAW over-arches all.

      Citation needed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonmylous, 3 Jan 2018 @ 10:24am

    Meet Bob!

    This is Bob, he works in waste management and is a special needs employee. We've given him the responsibility of dealing with NetzDG complaints here at our company. His responsibility is to check his email each day for these complaints, and delete them. Please feel free to sue him, we'd greatly enjoy defending our employee for the next 5-15 years in EU courts and making Germany look like utter shit-heels for suing a retarded kid.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2018 @ 10:37am

    It seems that the definition of "hate speech" in Germany has grown enormously in recent years, as the country has taken in a flood of immigrants from the Middle east and North Africa whose behavior has frequently ranged from highly undesirable to outright criminal. Talking about such politically-incorrect topics is of course labeled "hate speech" and subjects people to all the penalties that go with such labels.

    Even dissident politicians, such as from Germany's "far right" AfD party, have discovered that criticising "hate speech" laws is in itself considered a form of "hate speech".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      An Onymous Coward (profile), 3 Jan 2018 @ 12:00pm

      Re:

      It's no coincidence. Germany is pounding the Politically Correct movement into the dirt in an effort to overcome their Nazi history. But methinks the lady doth protest too much.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 4 Jan 2018 @ 4:58am

        Re: Re:

        Those who get the big bucks ARE responsible and liable, regardless what the "laws" they paid politicians to pass say about "limited liability"

        So what you are saying is that Mark Zuckerberg should suffer the consequences when you post illegal content on Facebook. Seems to me that you want absolute protection from any liability for your own actions.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2018 @ 1:03pm

    another tax on users that will soon spread to whichever pockets bribed the politicians to implement the law in the first place! and dont forget, this will spread to all countries that are part of the 'civilised' world, but not to those nasty places like N.Korea and China etc!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2018 @ 1:41pm

    I HATE SPEECH
    SUE ME

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2018 @ 2:14pm

    It Could Be Worse

    I won't say how though because Techdirt might get fined.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2018 @ 2:50pm

    I hate Nazis as much as the next guy, but I believe in freedom of choice under all but the most extreme of circumstances, same with socialists, communists, and Jehovah's Witnesses. Not anarchists or those wanting to hurt and demean others. I guess my Austrian nemesis is due on the scene shortly. Hope he doesn't let the Muslims bend his ear this time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Heinz, 3 Jan 2018 @ 3:04pm

    Nothing new here, spare your outrage

    Hate to break it to you, but nearly none of the things the article complains about is anything new -- and it has not been the end of the internet as we know it so far.

    German internet law has for decades operated on a simple principle: Providers have immunity for content they don't know about and remove in a timely fashion once they do know about it. A provider can of course decide that a report they got is bogus and the content in question is legal, but if a judge ultimately decides otherwise, they're SOL. If you want the legalese, the current (since 2007) place is the Telemediengesetz, §10.

    The only thing that did change is the 50 million figure. Previously, a company the size of Facebook or Twitter could ignore most complaints, suing Facebook is not exactly easy and even if somebody did, the potential damages were laughable to them. Now the cost of doing nothing is proportional to the finances of the companies.

    And of course they're throwing a hissy fit over it. If you are used to being worshipped as sacred "job creators", it must be hard to be suddenly held to the same standards as some lowly proles...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Jan 2018 @ 8:43am

      Re: Nothing new here, spare your outrage

      You forgot to mention the $5 million personal fine for the employee. Good luck getting anyone to take that job with that personal liability over their heads.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    a swiss guy (profile), 3 Jan 2018 @ 10:45pm

    Somewhat?

    "I understand that American companies are somewhat obliged to follow local laws when providing services overseas, ..." ... wow! Well, at least "somewhat".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    from europe with love, 4 Jan 2018 @ 8:33am

    This law is so silly! We really should adopt the procedures in place in the USA on how to deal with hate speech or online abuse. Oh wait, there is none! You just let the social platforms do as they please =)

    So, while you will still be looking at the *perfet* solution to marry absolute free speech, unregulated capitalism and at the same time avoiding hate speech or online abuse we in europe will start with something that it's not perfect but can be made better.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 4 Jan 2018 @ 8:58am

      Re:

      Don't lump the rest of us in Europe in with this stupid crap, you're on your own here.

      "You just let the social platforms do as they please =)"

      No, they hold the people responsible for the comments responsible for them instead of palming it off on to 3rd parties who have no control over what people using their services do before they do it. Is that not reasonable?

      There's some possible compromises to be made for sure, but if you think the US is too far on one side, then this idiocy is a solution *way* too far on the other - and it WILL backfire, be that on still not stopping the speech you want it to stop or preventing your speech that you believe is necessary.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        from europe with love, 4 Jan 2018 @ 9:23am

        Re: Re:

        I'm not the only one in Europe who knows that absolute free speech as paraded in the USA is an impossibility. You already know that in germany you cannot display a flag with a swastika. So why should you be able to post one on facebook?

        I don't seem to recall that as policy those platforms held people responsible for what they say, I yet have to see some examples on how all the alt-right trolls, the mysoginistic gamergate assholes or all the russian sock puppets have been held responsible for their actions on the social platforms.

        It's extremely obvious that all social platforms don't care about speech of any kind but only about monetizing everything, and guess what? Hate speech (and fake news) are amazing controversy, and consequently, income generators.

        But if you believe that speech must be allowed no matter what, then I don't think we have a basis for a discussion, and we will just shout at each others face.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 5 Jan 2018 @ 12:34am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "So why should you be able to post one on facebook?"

          Nobody's saying you should be able to, only that it should be the person posting the swastika held responsible rather than Facebook themselves.

          "I don't seem to recall that as policy those platforms held people responsible for what they say"

          Luckily, reality is not dependent on whether or not one random person recalls it or not. It exists even if you pretend it is not as it is.

          "It's extremely obvious that all social platforms don't care about speech of any kind but only about monetizing everything"

          For profit businesses do tend to be like that, yes. So?

          "But if you believe that speech must be allowed no matter what, then I don't think we have a basis for a discussion, and we will just shout at each others face."

          No, the problem is that you've spent paragraphs lecturing me about things that are not my opinion while not taking a moment to understand my actual opinion. YOU are the problem, sir.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Jan 2018 @ 2:48pm

    The current Internet has no future.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    from europe with love, 5 Jan 2018 @ 12:52am

    > Nobody's saying you should be able to, only that it should be the person posting the swastika held responsible rather than Facebook themselves.

    So just let the social platforms do as they please =) QED

    > YOU are the problem, sir.

    NO YOU! Jesus, grow up, I am done speaking to you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 5 Jan 2018 @ 1:18am

      Re:

      "So just let the social platforms do as they please =) QED"

      You can lie about what I'm saying all you want, but it won't make it true. Platforms will still be held to standards, they will just be held responsible for the violations that they commit, not the ones other people commit.

      You're trying really hard to pretend I'm saying stuff I'm not, for some reason.

      "NO YOU! Jesus, grow up, I am done speaking to you."

      Good, because your lies about my opinions are already rather ridiculous and tiresome.

      You need to grow up, and address the things people are actually saying, not the things you just invented to make you feel superior. Come back when you're ready for grown up conversation.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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