The controversial law was passed by German MPs in June on the last day before their summer break. It is already facing criticism.
In response to an increase in criminal hate speech on social media, German MPs have voted in favour of the Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz (NetzDG) law. This means that social media companies with over 2 million users may be fined if they fail to remove ‘obviously’ illegal content within 24 hours. Any ambiguous content must be assessed within seven days. Failure to comply with this law will result in a minimum penalty of €5m, which can be increased to up to €50m depending on the severity of the offence.
Although the NetzDGlaw will not completely remove online hate crime, it will hopefully help tackle this growing worldwide issue, which has seen an increase of almost 300% in the past few years.
However, the NetzDG law is now facing disapproval from both human rights groups and industry representatives.
Human rights campaigners have criticised the bill for raising ‘concern with respect to freedom of expression’, and say that in many cases, the violations would be highly dependent on context – which the platforms would not be able to assess.
Industry representatives believe that the time limits are unrealistic. They argue that such short time scales could lead to companies rushing to delete content which is not necessarily illegal, just to avoid penalties.
The NetzDGlaw could also face opposition at EU level in Brussels. Campaigners are alleging that it breaches EU law, which establishes that all restrictions to fundamental rights, including freedom of expression, must be provided for by law, necessary and proportionate (Article 52 of the Charter of the Fundamental Rights of the EU). In addition, EU law prohibits imposing general monitoring obligations on companies.
Although the NetzDGlaw could be viewed as a step in the right direction for removing online hate crime – something which social media firms are ‘shamefully far’ from tackling generally, according to a UK Home Affairs Select Committee report – the extent to which NetzDGlaw’s terms will be acceptable to the European Commission and implemented in Germany is yet to be seen.
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