Free speech and expression is no longer limited to tangible public broadcasts, they now happen in the various crevices of the World Wide Web. The most vocal part of freedom of expression in the internet comes through social media platforms. For most part, social media platforms have remained excluded from the ambits of law with regard to content and expression but Germany is changing that by penalizing social media giants for not removing hate or xenophobic content on their platform.
“Freedom of expression ends where criminal law begins,” said Justice Minister Heiko Maas.
Failure to pull down content within 24 hours of being flagged by users will invite a fine of 50 million Euro. For comments requiring longer deliberations, a week has been granted under the German law which translates to ‘Enforcement on Social Media Networks’ or NetzDG.
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The new law which came into practice on October 1, taps on to German Criminal Code on laws on hate speech which criminalizes speech inciting racial and religious violence. For social media platforms with more than two million users in Germany, the platform should be able to answer and act on queries placed by a special cell within 48 hours. Failure of which will invite the teary eyed fine.
Germany has long fought to curb hate speeches after its lessons from history. Social media platforms aided by anonymity have bolstered hate speeches in Germany and other nations. Germany in particular has been battling with negative content online but self-regulatory policies of giants like Facebook and Twitter have failed.
“Online platforms are not taking adequate action. Our experience has clearly shown that without political pressure, the social networks will unfortunately not budge,” said Justice Minister Heiko Mass in June after a litigation for stronger curbing of online hate speeches was moved in April.
The NetzDG however, has entered controversial waters as it gives social media platforms the power to pull down content fearing fines thereby policing every content.Difficult times ahead for people fighting for free speech.