Germany's Speech Laws Continue To Be A Raging Dumpster Fire Of Censorial Stupidity

from the sandboxing-the-web,-one-country-at-a-time dept

Germany's new law, targeting hate speech and other unpleasantness online, is off to a roaring start. Instead of cleaning up the internet for German consumption, the law has been instrumental in targeting innocuous posts by politicians and taking down satirical content. The law is a bludgeon with hefty fines attached. This has forced American tech companies to be proactive, targeting innocuous content and satire before the German government comes around with its hand out.

It took only 72 hours for the new law (Netzwerkdurchsezungsgesetz, or NetzDG) to start censoring content that didn't violate the law. Some German officials have expressed concern, but the government as a whole seems content to let more censorship of lawful content occur before the law is given a second look. The things critics of the law said would happen have happened. And yet the law remains in full effect.

The spirit is willing but the body is weak, Sterling Jones says in the opening of his excellent post detailing more blundering attempts by the German government to enforce its terrible law.

While intended to stop the spread of disinformation and hateful rhetoric online, recently published “local law” complaints show that would-be censors are using NetzDG to target all variety of content, including mainstream news stories, sexual words and images, an anti-Nazi online forum, and criticism of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and of the NetzDG law itself.

So, that's how the law is working out. Sterling's post is filled with takedown notices forwarded to the Lumen Database -- all of them targeting speech that doesn't appear to be unlawful even under Germany's screwed up laws. It also appears there's a concerted effort being made to shut down criticism of Angela Merkel, targeting German author Martin Hilpert, who rarely has anything nice to say about the German Chancellor. The notices also target two German news publishers, with the attendant irony apparently lost on the censors issuing the notices.

The complaint against FAZ states that the newspaper engaged in “harmful or dangerous acts” for a story about NATO, while the complaint against Heise states that the tech website engaged in “hate speech or political extremism” for publishing concerns by the EU Commission that NetzDG could lead to “possible abuse by governments seeking to limit freedom of expression.”

Most ridiculously, an anti-Nazi group has been targeted by the government. Another takedown request declared the following picture to be "terrorist or unconstitutional content."

Last but not least, something the German government finds every bit as concerning as snowmen dressed like Hitler: SEX. Jones reports the government has asked for the removal of everything from semi-nude photos of a model to public invitations for sex. The takedown request for the last one appears to have been written by an offended elderly neighbor.

If you can't see/read the text, it says under "Explanation of Complaint"

Issue type: Sexual content
Google received a request to remove content from Google Plus based on the Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz.
It's indecent

And it is! But no so much you'd think a government entity would need to be involved!

The only surprising thing about the post is that it received positive answers, which seems contrary to how the internet usually works.There's no telling the level of sincerity in the offers, but I would imagine they're at least as sincere as the original post.

Germany's attempt to control the internet is going to cause immense amounts of collateral damage. It's unknown if any citizens have been charged for putting Nazi armbands on snowmen or shouting "I need sex" into the void, but service providers are taking few chances. Since they face fines equivalent to 40 million pounds per infraction, they're obviously erring on the side of caution when dealing with these takedown demands. That's not good for the internet as a whole and it's downright catastrophic for German citizens who are pretty much assured they'll be targeted by government takedowns for expressing their displeasure with these laws.

Filed Under: censorship, free speech, germany, hate speech

Reader Comments

The First Word

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  1. icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 21 Feb 2018 @ 10:03am

    Re: Re:

    Is there a punishment written into the law for willfully abusing the takedown process?

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