Inverting The Expected Order Of Things, German Court Orders Facebook To Reinstate 'Offensive' Content

from the just-keeping-things-unpredictably-dystopian dept

Germany's ridiculous hate speech law continues to wreak havoc in the stupidest ways possible. Giving social media companies 24 hours to remove poorly-defined "offensive" content has resulted in proactive removals targeting anything marginally questionable. Official complaints aren't much better. Government demands for removal have been no less idiotic than proactive deletions by Facebook and Twitter.

It's a bad law. The only way bad laws can be followed is badly. Facebook is dealing with something new, thanks to its adherence to its own content policies. It's an argument over deleted content, but the push/pull tension has been reversed.

A Berlin court has ordered Facebook not to block a user and not to delete a comment made by that user, even though it breached the social network's community standards.

This order follows a legal complaint by Facebook user "Gabor B." The court will still allow Facebook to argue in its defense, but it wants the content reinstated while this is sorted out. Facebook, following its internal content rules, decided Gabor B's insults weren't the sort of content it was willing to host.

"The Germans are becoming ever more stupid," Gabor B's comment, posted in January, read. "No wonder, since they are every day littered with fake news from the left-wing Systemmedien about 'skilled workers', declining unemployment rates or Trump."

Systemmedien can be inelegantly translated as 'system media'. The phrase carries echoes of the term Systempresse, or 'system press', that was used by the Nazis before they came to power.

Gabor B had his post deleted and his account suspended. He took his complaint to the German court which now wants Facebook to violate its own policies to restore Gabor B to his rightful position of truth-to-power-speaker or whatever. This isn't what's expected from the German government, which has spent much of its time trying to find new ways to limit free expression by Germans.

But there is internal consistency, even if it's not readily apparent. The German government feels its laws trump Facebook's policies. This applies even when Facebook's content policies are more restrictive than German law. That's why it demands takedowns of posts violating its speech laws (but not Facebook policy) and demands the restoration of posts violating Facebook policies (but not German law). Unfortunately, applying German speech laws consistently is almost as terrible as applying them inconsistently. In both cases, Facebook moderation policies no longer matter.

The only way out of this mess is to handle this with logic. If a German Facebook user has violated a German law, the German government can go after the user, not the platform hosting the content. Instead, the law holds Facebook responsible for users' posts -- to the tune of €50m a violation. The law prompts overzealous deletion and the courts seem willing to punish Facebook for trying to remain in compliance. Facebook's more stringent moderation standards are a natural response to multiple governments with different free speech ideals all pushing their own agendas. Punish the wrongdoers, not the intermediaries, and you won't have these problems.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Apr 2018 @ 6:15am

    Re: Re:

    I miss the old days, when "just ignore it" was something you could do (and suggest) without incident. You'd close the page if someone posted something you found annoying or disturbing. Your day has a blemish on it, but you found something better to do online after.

    Since when did pointing out offense and flagging become some sort of team sport on social media? Once "offense" and "fake" became more prevalent topics online, so did the calls for censorship increase. No one discusses things, everyone accuses one another, tension and shit-flinging increases.

    Sounds like people behind the scenes are working to make this an issue people care more about, because the fever pitch of rhetoric from everyone about online censorship was not nearly as strong several years back.

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