How Germany Is Tackling Hate Speech
Social media platforms may have once been praised as an inherently democratizing force, but in recent years they’ve gained more notoriety for the hate and harassment propogated on their networks. In response, the German government has taken the most decisive action of any democracy yet. In April 2017, the German cabinet passed new legislation on hate speech that the German Bundestag is scheduled to adopt in the summer. The law enables Germany to fine social media companies up to 50 million euros ($55 million) for not reacting swiftly enough to reports of illegal content or hate speech.
The law has an aptly German name Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz, or Network Enforcement Law. But its main target is U.S. tech giants, which provide the main social media networks in Germany. The clash between U.S. social media companies and the German government is about more than deleting hateful online comments. It is a fight about how much free speech a democracy can take.
PLATFORMS FOR HATE
U.S. companies dominate Internet usage in Germany. With the exception of Xing (the German equivalent of LinkedIn), all major social media channels used by Germans are American. Twenty-eight million Germans have a Facebook account, and Google has nearly a 95 percent market share in search in Germany (compared to a 89 percent market share worldwide). Many Germans clearly appreciate U.S. innovation and the enormously powerful digital companies it has produced. But the nation’s lawmakers, particularly those in the Social Democratic Party (SPD), have become increasingly frustrated with these companies’ reluctance to comply with German law restricting seditious and defamatory speech.
About a year ago, China’s new political leadership launched a ferocious crackdown on social media, arresting influential bloggers with millions of followers on weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.