Germany's new law can fine Facebook, Twitter up to $57-million for hate speech


Why is hate speech—i.e., racist speech that motivates violence—regarded as speech at all?

This is a function of government, too. But oftentimes, we do have a problem with it, regardless. Say Facebook bans a group that does LGBTQ outreach for youth. Is that not problematic? (If not, why not?)

There are pretty stark differences between people who want to express the idea that they have the right to exist, versus, say, Nazis.


Half my fb friends have 3-5 different profiles, because we are constantly being shut out of one or another in punishment for having been flagged.
That’s just how it goes if you’re a feminist or lgbttiq activist on fb.
It’s extremely frustrating, too, because if you go and flag a page which shares pics of victims of femicides and make jokes about who’s next and whatnot, fb will almost 100% of the time return a ‘we reviewed the content and found it did not violate our community standards’, while you’re locked out of (one of) your accounts for 5 days because seventy-two angry bros flagged you for a comment that begins with ‘I disagree, though, that …’.
So, I’m wondering wtf is going to happen with a law that elevates flagging to new levels of legitimacy, instead of requiring more expenditure in moderation based on specific and nondiscriminatory guidelines.


The DMCA experience will be informative here. Questions I have:

  • What countermeasures exist to prevent mobs from using takedown requests as a DDOS attack?
  • What remedy does someone have from an incorrect takedown?


Trouble with free speech is some people speak too freely and way too much. Nicer in public areas where you can just walk on but in my city they are having to regulate the use of amplifiers. Sometimes sorta cool how the amplified busker music works with amplified repent end of days lyrics. Although I’m sure my daughter’s multiple unisex partners had nothing to do with her wearing sunglasses when she was three. Amazing what you remember when it is blasted at you at 110 db.


I wish someone would read my post above.

The German law already defines what is illegal, and there already are cases which went to court. (Interestingly, as far as I know, most of those didn’t end in full win for the plaintiff.)

The platforms are now under pressure to follow the law.

See above. The guidelines of the platforms aren’t particularly more specific than German written law, court decisions, and scholarly comments on both law and court decisions. In fact, practitioners as scholars mostly argue that the platforms don’t follow the letter and the spirit of the law. Some would argue that is because their own regulations are arbitrary and non-binding.

I wonder why you insist on the politeness/censorship issue. I tried to explain that this new approach wants to enforce already binding law.

PSA: I’m not in favour of the new law, and I’d much rather like to see a different solution. I don’t think it will work - I actually fear it will backfire when some platforms with access to resources will go to court, and may end up at the Bundesverfassungsgericht. But I am no lawyer, our judge, and I am definitely not in campaigning mode as is our minister of justice.

But I can safely say that the discussion about flagging/politeness/censorship is a bit tangential to the reality of German law.

I’d wait for the first fines, and then look at both the content and the reaction from the platform.


I am not really insisting on it, I was just clarifying my initial remark which was before your post.

Thanks for your insight on the law. I was aware that Germany has some specific limitations. The thing is with this new law it gives those limitations teeth now. Before hand Facebook had no reason to strictly police anything, now they do.

I doubt there will be fines, as I expect them to try to comply. Can you shed light on how that sort of thing will be monitored? That is, who makes the official decision something has crossed the line and FB now has 24hr to delete it?


It concerns me that “scholars and practitioners of the law” in Germany seem to consider holding a third-party legally culpable for someone elses actions is an acceptable legal stance. My immediate thought when I read this concerned the use of bots to flood social media sites with enfringing content, partly to expose those sites to billions of Euros in legal liabilities, partly to bury the legal office that deals with these claims up to it’s eyeballs and render the system inoperative - not to be malicious, merely to point out the flaws in this approach that render it useless.

The unintended consequence of increasing the fines to this level may be that a bunch of social media platforms split the bill for a team of extremely expensive lawyers who rip the German legal system a new one for this. Or Germany gets cut off from Facebook et al and the balkanization of the Internet gets stepped up another notch. I wouldn’t doubt that meetings have taken place regarding this issue where someone’s said “could we just cut Germany off?” and some engineer somewhere has been asked to work out how to do this already…


It will surprise no one here that I find this thinking weak and misdirected. Hate speech laws don’t protect anything but the sensibilities of polite society. Germany already has hate speech laws yet “hate crimes have increased by 300 percent in the past two years”. Punishing the publishers here isn’t going to solve the problem.


Ok, granted.

Do you have any proposals for what is going to solve the problem?


I tried to further explain my remark. Let me try again.

Did you miss this part:
"So I don’t know who does the flagging. I assume some government agency. Which makes more business sense - delete anything they tell you to delete, or get a fine? "

So, while I could see the confusion from my first post, I think one must be purposefully obtuse to miss the second one. But let me further clarify.

Like I mentioned above, and to another poster comments, it wasn’t exactly clear how these fine worthy flags are going to be made. I assume it isn’t just random public flagging, but someone or something in official capacity. I think certainly any post or item flagged by the official means of “Please delete withing 24hr or receive a fine.” will be deleted. Are you saying that Facebook won’t delete these posts?

If you think I meant deleting any and all flagged posts flagged by the community (although, they do already do some policing in that area here in the US), I did not. UNLESS said flagging could also lead to fines, then they would. But I don’t think that is the route to get fines.


If I knew what would solve antisemitic or other violence against minority groups I sure wouldn’t be hiding it. I don’t like being the complainer with out a proposed remedy but here all I can say is that putting a big bandaid on this cancer isn’t going to help anyone but the German treasury.


U think you misunderstand the law, then. Distributing (e.g.) holocaust denial propaganda is a criminal offence in Germany already. The new law is supposed to implement leverage to hold the platform accountable if it does nothing against it.
Facebook, e.g., has so far argued that they have measures implemented and do comply with the law. But they didn’t remove the content anyway.

The question posed above is critical: who and how is the flood of shit monitored and who flags it up for deletion?
This, so far, is a bit opaque to me, and I will try to look at the law as soon as I can.

However, the point stands: if the platforms didn’t have enough incentive to do something if a prosecutor called, they might now have. We will see how this turns out. And I do think that we will see a legal battle at some point. Which is hair enough. =)


Fair enough, I was hoping you’d have a suggestion. We could all do with one :frowning:

I suspect not even that so much. Our governments talk a good game but in the end they tend to capitulate before multinational corporate money just as much as the US.


As a small suggestion Europe could stop pretending that hate speech laws are at all effective. Quit trying to hide the problem under the rug and have some honest public conversation.

Won’t fix the big problem but it’s worth a try.


As far as I can tell (and I haven’t been able to track down the actual text of the law yet, I’m just going from the Tagesschau reporting), it seems the law requires Facebook, et. al. to set up a system enabling users to flag posts and to actually review the flagged posts and delete those which (as @LutherBlisset points out) breach the already existing laws.

So it does seem to be random users flagging.

The fines come in if the government thinks Facebook, etc. haven’t set up an appropriate system or aren’t operating it correctly.


Well you may be surprised to find that many people over here agree with you.

OTOH, how’s that working out in the US?


Not these laws, of course, as it’s a different country.
Public insults have always been illegal in Austria; as is accusing someone of a crime that you know they didn’t commit. So when you publicly call someone a “despicable traitor” and a “corrupt idiot”, they’ve got the right to take you to court. You will get a fine. Nothing new here.
In the particular case you are referring to, the problem was that the post in question came from a fake-name profile on Facebook, and Facebook refused to remove the post. So the politician (Eva Glawischnig) sued Facebook instead.

There’s no formal concept of “hate crime” in Austrian law. The relevant laws here are part of the criminal code, but there’s a special clause that the public prosecutor can only prosecute when asked to do so by the victim of the crime. In the present case, Glawischnig sued Facebook directly, because the post was anonymous so the person breaking the law wasn’t known.

Indeed, there is some amount of “forced politeness” inherent in European law, and I consider that a good thing, even though I’m fully aware that it does not quite match the American definition of “free speech”.

But you touch on another aspect here, and that’s the one I myself have problems with. Or laws are designed to be enforced by judges; if you have something to say that is legal to say in 90% of all interpretations of the law, go ahead and say it, and be ready to defend it in court.
Facebook has no motive to keep posts online that are less than 99.9% certain to be legal.
So my opinion is: the old laws are good, the new ideas about enforcing them are bad.

Interesting. I would not want a non-accountable private entity to decide what rules are appropriate for me. I want that done democratically.

I trust powerful entities, public and private, about as far as I can throw them. I can’t throw Facebook far at all. But I can vote and throw politicians out of office.

For the same reason that serial murderers are still considered human as far as their human rights are concerned.
Many human rights need to be weighed against each other; the serial murderer’s right to freedom will probably need to be infringed in order to protect other people’s rights. By the same token, limitations on the right to free speech are possible, but only when there’s a good reason.
By saying “this is not speech”, you’re avoiding the necessary discussion about which limitations are necessary using a “no true Scotsman” argument.

[citation needed].

These laws make it illegal to do things that I don’t want done to me and that I don’t want to do to other people. Which makes them directly useful. Just like laws banning “harmless fistfights” have no effect other than to protect people from fistfights when visiting a bar, drinking and saying stupid things. And those laws don’t work reliably, either.

But all our European laws limiting free speech are exactly of that nature; reeking of antisocial and inhumane sentiment is legal, it’s saying it explicitly that might cross a threshold.

The law is here, but of course it’s in German.

The flagging is done by private citizens; social networks have to provide an obvious way for users to flag content, and provide an “effective and transparent” procedure for handling those complaints. “Obviously illegal” content has to be blocked within 24 hours, and “all illegal content” within a week.

The fines are for “not implementing” or “not properly implementing” such mechanisms, or for violating certain reporting requirements also in the law.

The law also asks the responsible government office to publish a set of guidelines for how the actual fines are determined (no idea if these guidelines are already out or where to find them).
If a fine is decided based on a failure to delete illegal content, the illegality of that content first has to be confirmed by a court.

Exactly. So no new social media startups from Germany for the foreseeable future, a new startup can’t afford the moderation team.
And also, they will be forced to play it safe for borderline legal things, where judges might not agree on whether it’s legal or not. There is no explicit provision in the law to discourage overblocking, except perhaps the general requirements for “transparency” and reporting.


Thanks for posting the link.

Why not? You already need to be able to persuade someone to stump up masses of money they’ll probably never see again to set up a start-up, why should it be impossible to get some more?

Less cynically, I think the part that would be more difficult to deal with is the reporting requirements. They seem quite onerous to me.


Yet you’re posting on a forum owned by a “non-accountable private entity” who will indeed tell you what rules are appropriate.


Good to hear. Hopefully their voices will reach their lawmakers.

Pretty darn well. Same for here in Japan where freedom of expression is part of the American designed constitution. You can in fact find books here which deny that the Holocaust happened. OTOH you can find books by Japanese authors countering this foolishness.

Dogoodnicks keep trying to tell Japan to make hate speech laws but fortunately the supreme court here is pretty clear that doing so would violate the constitution. Here there’s been issues with some groups really harassing ethnic minorities. When there are arrests its not for what they said its for what they did.

Sorry but I disagree with this comparison in the strongest terms. Me saying “that type are scum/rule the world/whatever insult” is in no way the same as me punching someone.

You want a citation proving a negative? I’m gonna say you are barking up the wrong tree but it should be pretty obvious if the laws are in place but actual crimes against people or property are up 300%