How Germany wants to crack down on online hate speech

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How Germany wants to crack down on online hate speech
This illustration photo shows a computer keyboard in Los Angeles, July 16, 2021. (Photo by Chris Delmas / AFP)

Anyone who repeatedly spreads hate speech online in Germany could soon face harsher consequences. But do the plans go far enough?


According to the Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG), tech companies themselves are responsible for deleting hate speech on social media in Germany, and face up to €50 million in fines if they don't.

But it's left to their own discretion whether or not they block the often-anonymous users behind it.

Now Germany’s coalition government wants to take tighter controls of hateful and threatening content online, both by blocking users who spread hate speech through a court order, and forcing social media companies to reveal the person or group behind a perpetrator's profile.

This week Germany's Ministry of Justice (BMJ) wrote out key points of a “law against digital violence”, which were exclusively acquired by public broadcaster ARD.

READ ALSO: German police carry out countrywide raids over online hate speech

What does the proposed legislation entail?

This proposed plan is directed against "notorious infringers of rights in the digital space" - such as an online user repeatedly making death threats or spewing racist comments - and is intended to help especially in cases where their identity is not clear. 

The length of any account block would have to be "proportionate" and regard "serious violations" - yet it would be left to the respective court to decide what exactly that means.


In addition, an account would only be blocked if other options - such as deleting a post - doesn't stymie the offender from further comments and there is a "risk of repetition". 

But an account holder must first be informed that their account could be blocked - and have the chance to comment on the incident.

The profile would not be permanently deleted but rather blocked "only for a reasonable period of time," according to the plan.

Facebook on smart phone

File photo: Dado Ruvic/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix

Does the proposal go far enough?

Lawyer and judge Ulf Buermeyer called on perpetrators to face a permanent block rather than simply temporarily losing their online privileges, he told ARD.

Buermeyer, who’s also the chairman of the Society for Civil Liberties (Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte, GFF), said that an offender should be blocked the very first time they act out - also to deter perpetrators in general "so that word gets around."

Josephine Ballon, legal director of Hate Aid - a non-profit supporting human rights on the internet - told ARD that account blocking would only be effective if a specific person is repeatedly attacked via an individual profile, for example in cases of persistent digital stalking or cyberbullying.

READ ALSO: Germany to crack down on online hate speech


Accounts that spread their hatred to various victims or denigrate entire groups are not represented in the new legislation, she told ARD.

However, she praised that the proposed plan allowed for the identity of online aggressors to be unveiled. 

This is important in order to be able to sue them for injunctive relief or damages in some cases, said Ballon.

How can perpetrators be identified in the first place?

According to the BMJ's plan, usage data such as the IP address will have to be explicitly handed over in future.

Messenger services, social media firms and telecommunications companies will be held accountable alongside network operators, in order to find out who is using a particular IP address. 

However, courts would need to get involved in order to force the companies to reveal this information.

"Even with this (power), it would not be possible to identify those responsible one hundred percent in every case, but it would increase the probability," said Ballon. 



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