Despite already having some of the strictest laws in the world surrounding “hate speech,” Germany is looking to tighten the leash further where it comes to social media. The new provision, when passed, will require online platforms to directly report to the federal police when any criminal activity is reported by users on these platforms.
Germany already established the Network Enforcement Act (known as NetzDG law) back in 2017, which requires social media platforms to monitor any hate speech content in under twenty hours. Else, hefty fines in the order of €50M may follow. (France tried to pass a similar law but it was struck down as being unconstitutional this week.)
The country’s parliament has now passed a reform that would mandate social media platforms to report to the federal police if they find certain kinds of criminal content on their platforms.
What’s more, a much wider reform to the NetzDG law is also underway, according to which users may gain greater control of their internet usage and enjoy more transparency. Simplified user notifications and ability to object to content takedowns and ensure the restoration if need be are a few highlights of the reform.
While the NetzDG law may see reforms to make it user friendly, several critics have warned that the laws were a little too stringent and may result in what’s known as “overblocking”. Simply put, overblocking is a phenomenon wherein platforms get more inclined to remove content more broadly just to avoid a fine, rather than because it actually violates a law.
Critics such as Human Rights Watch note that NetzDG law also stifles freedom of expression, and said that the law was “vague, overbroad, and turn private companies into overzealous censors to avoid steep fines, leaving users with no judicial oversight or right to appeal”. That being said, the reforms underway may answer the aforementioned criticism by allowing people to appeal and restore the content that’s removed.
The recent changes have also managed to spark controversy as critics are under the opinion that social media giants would now be enabled for helping the government build a massive database on citizens based on the content they post, without any legal justification or oversight in place.
It is also worth noting that an amendment to the latest reform, which requires personal data of the users responsible for reported posts to not be shared with the police, was rejected. Whether the new reform would control hate speech and crimes or not, it may very well put individuals’ private information at risk.