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.


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  1. icon
    Ninja (profile), 21 Feb 2018 @ 6:55am

    The best way to get a bad law under fire and reviewed is to fully enforce it. Or go nuclear to avoid getting caught. The issues are glaring and even politicians are uncomfortable with it. If I were the tech giants I'd go nuclear and start filtering everything that might fit the law even if remotely and clearly warn the users they are being hit by said law. Let the outrage do the rest.

    On a side note one would think Germany had learned from their Nazi past but it seems humans will be humans anywhere. Go figure.

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

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Feb 2018 @ 8:36am

    The law appears to be doing exactly what they intended.

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

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Feb 2018 @ 8:40am

    Re:

    I was in the middle of typing the same thing!

    Double Ditto!

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

  4. icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 21 Feb 2018 @ 8:45am

    The best way to get a bad law under fire and reviewed is to fully enforce it.

    Then why do we still have the DMCA?

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

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Feb 2018 @ 8:45am

    That is a worse law than the DMCA for giving power to those who would abuse the law; especially as when the number of notices build up, the companies will look at ways of automating the takedowns.

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

  6. icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 21 Feb 2018 @ 8:46am

    Re:

    (argh, that was supposed to be a response to Ninja, above. Not sure why it didn't get posted that way.)

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

  7. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Feb 2018 @ 8:48am

    Techdirt is jeering how difficult reform is. You drug addicts know detox is painful. Society should have never "liberalized". Nor should "the economy" have been turned over to central bankers. ALL these bad results were entirely predicted!

    So now your nihilism urges aiming for the cliff and stomping on the accelerator rather than least slowing to THINK if society is headed right direction.

    Oh, and Techdirt's level of hypocrisy is astounding: this "free speech" site can't even stand to let my little bits of text remain seen!

    This'll calm down soon. Put your head in a bucket of cold water, your hair is on fire.

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

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Feb 2018 @ 8:53am

    Re:

    "The issues are glaring"

    They were glaring from the start.

    "one would think Germany had learned from their Nazi past"

    History's lesson about freedom of speech is so crystal clear.

    There should only be two laws about speech.

    #1. Anyone of age and sound mind asking government to limit the freedom of speech in any fashion should be prosecuted as crimes against humanity with a punishment of 1 year in jail without parole if found guilty.
    #2. Any politician seeking/supporting to limit the freedom of speech for any reason will be charged with High Treason with the only punishment upon being found guilty is execution at dawn the following morning!

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

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Feb 2018 @ 8:54am

    Re: Re:

    that happens to me from time to time too so you are not the only one it experiencing it.

    I just assume that I clicked the wrong reply button without thinking.

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

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Feb 2018 @ 8:56am

    Re: Techdirt is jeering how difficult reform is. You drug addicts know detox is painful. Society should have never "liberalized". Nor should "the economy" have been turned over to central bankers. ALL these bad results were entirely predicted!

    It is the nature of humans to destroy themselves.

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

  11. icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 21 Feb 2018 @ 9:28am

    Re: Downvote replies with troll titles?

    Our pet nutjob is gaming the forum. Putting his delusional wingnuttery in the title, so that it appears even in reasonable replies after his own comments are hidden.

    Now, I'm not against responding to his posts. His dishonest claims are often countered with good facts and citations. Those replies can complement the original article.

    However, how do people feel about down-voting replies that repeat his wingnuttery-loaded titles? (Added irony there given the article title.) Should there be a forum mechanism that recognizes what he's doing? Some requirement for a reply to have a new title once a post receives a number of abusive/trolling/spam flags?

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

  12. icon
    Killercool (profile), 21 Feb 2018 @ 10:01am

    Re:

    I would say, it's because the DMCA isn't fully enforced. When's the last time someone got punished for willfully abusing the takedown process?

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

  13. 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?

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

  14. identicon
    Peter, 21 Feb 2018 @ 10:39am

    how that takedown decision was reached

    CEO: "I want to implement a policy for our new review team to follow for any takedown requests, so that we can properly evaluate each of them and make an appropriate decision. BTW it must comply with German Law, is easy to follow and has no legal comeback on us."

    Lawyer: "Um. Yeh but its not that easy to be certain with this new law so but no guarantees, and if we get it wrong its a 40 million fine"

    CEO: "40 million? Fuck it, sack the review team and takedown everything. Done"

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

  15. icon
    Ninja (profile), 21 Feb 2018 @ 10:43am

    Re:

    I don't think it's fully enforced. The compymorons just target the low hanging fruits and it doesn't impact daily life as the German law will. Public awareness started growing when the copyright industry started clamping down on single mothers and elderly with iron fists. Today there are many more people I know that believe the system is broken and unfair than 20 years ago. Me included.

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

  16. icon
    Ninja (profile), 21 Feb 2018 @ 10:48am

    Re: Techdirt is jeering how difficult reform is. You drug addicts know detox is painful. Society should have never "liberalized". Nor should "the economy" have been turned over to central bankers. ALL these bad results were entirely predicted!

    "Society should have never "liberalized"."

    Oh yes it should. And the fact that it is slowly liberalizing is a nightmare to conservative morons like you so it's not a surprise you are flailing incoherently all over.

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

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Feb 2018 @ 10:49am

    Re: Techdirt is jeering how difficult reform is. You drug addicts know detox is painful. Society should have never "liberalized". Nor should "the economy" have been turned over to central bankers. ALL these bad results were entirely predicted!

    And you should remember to take your pills EVERY DAY.

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

  18. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 21 Feb 2018 @ 11:36am

    Re:

    Society should have never "liberalized".

    …wait what

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

  19. icon
    NeghVar (profile), 21 Feb 2018 @ 12:25pm

    critics censord

    I bet critics of the law got censored because it is deemed hateful of the law itself

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

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Feb 2018 @ 1:33pm

    Re: critics censord

    Laws have feelings!

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

  21. icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 21 Feb 2018 @ 2:56pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    On paper, yes. In practice, it's been virtually neutered by a long string of horrible court rulings that make it actually apply to essentially nothing at all. As long as you can make a good-faith claim that you hold the copyright to the thing being complained about, or an authorized representative of the copyright holder, the actual takedown request can be as blatantly fraudulent as the day is long and you'll get away with it.

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

  22. icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 21 Feb 2018 @ 4:36pm

    Re: Re: Techdirt is jeering how difficult reform is. You drug addicts know detox is painful. Society should have never "liberalized". Nor should "the economy" have been turned over to central bankers. ALL these bad results were entirely predicted!

    Actually sometime i have to wonder what definition of "liberal" someone is using, and whether it is something they just made up themselves without bothering to verbally define it.

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

  23. icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 21 Feb 2018 @ 4:40pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Or a good faith claim that it was a mistake or whatever.

    But then, the concept of good faith has been so thoroughly bastardized as to make no difference whatsoever anyway.

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

  24. icon
    PaulT (profile), 22 Feb 2018 @ 1:02am

    Re:

    Key word being "fully". I don't remember any perjury charges being filed for false claims, as the law allows.

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

  25. icon
    PaulT (profile), 22 Feb 2018 @ 1:09am

    Re: Re: Re: Techdirt is jeering how difficult reform is. You drug addicts know detox is painful. Society should have never "liberalized". Nor should "the economy" have been turned over to central bankers. ALL these bad results were entirely predicted!

    The majority of the time, they have no idea what it means. This particular AC has demonstrated that he spends most of his time in a right-wing echo chamber (at least, virtually all of his politcs related links come from there), which has redefined "liberal" to mean "anything I don't like".

    At a guess, he's just using the word because he's been told it means something bad, but if you asked him individually about things that are "liberal" according to the actual definition, but without using the word itself, he would love all of them.

    Actually, you can see within the post itself that he;'s accusing people of both be liberals and nihilists, but clearly not understanding that it's impossible for one to actually be both. He's just trying to sound clever by using words he was told were bad.

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

  26. icon
    PaulT (profile), 22 Feb 2018 @ 1:11am

    Re: Re:

    This is a guy who has previously demonstrated that he gets most of his news from Breitbart, the Daily Mail and radio stations run by white supremacists. He'll be thinking he's speaking the truth and being clever, but he doesn't realise such things don't play well in the real world.

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

  27. identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, 22 Feb 2018 @ 2:32am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Someone needs to tell the nutjob that a) right wing nut-jobbery isn't conservatism and b) it's the liberalisation of society that allows the proliferation of his favourite media outlets.

    Can I have an "Oh, yeaaaaah...?"

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

  28. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Feb 2018 @ 3:36am

    You missed a T in Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz :)

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

  29. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Feb 2018 @ 8:16am

    Re: Re:

    1. Anyone of age and sound mind asking government to limit the freedom of speech in any fashion should be prosecuted as crimes against humanity with a punishment of 1 year in jail without parole if found guilty.

    But wouldn't that be limiting their freedom of speech?

    Oh, the irony!

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

  30. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Feb 2018 @ 8:19am

    Re: You drug addicts know detox is painful.

    Oh, so that's your problem. You should give it another try.

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

  31. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2018 @ 4:40am

    Fixed: Techdirt's Report Continue To Be A Raging Dumpster Fire Of Stupidity

    >>Since they face fines equivalent to 40 million pounds per infraction<<
    No matter how often you repeat that claim, it won't get any truthier: The 50 million fine is for systemic failure to follow the law, not per infraction.

    Also, you the linked article is about <i>recently published “local law” complaints</i>. <b>Complaints</b>, not actual cases of takedowns. I know, never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity, but considering you actually quoted that very paragraph, I find it hard to believe in a good faith error here...

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


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