World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

Freedom of expression restrictions on social media become law in Germany

World News Publishing Focus

World News Publishing Focus
Your Guide to the Changing Media Landscape

Freedom of expression restrictions on social media become law in Germany

The law provides for fines up to €50m against social media platforms that do not comply timely, and an astonishing €5m for the person that in the company is in charge of the complaints procedure. On a libertarian afterthought private messaging was last minute excluded from the law’s scrutiny. 
As the  office of the United Nations Human Rights high commissioner noted, the bill is infused with a general absence of judicial oversight which is "not compatible with international human rights law”. 
In Germany hate speech allegedly increased by 300% in the last two years. Arguments similar to this, and an obvious concern for possible public opinion manipulation on the eve of September 24 national election was one of the driving forces of the bill that requires social media platforms to "remove obviously illegal hate speech and other postings within 24 hours after receiving a notification or complaint, and to block other offensive content within seven days”.  
For a quick and clear roundup of the recent German initiatives regarding hate speech - including home raids over social media posts - have a look at this article in The Verge
Twitter declined to comment. Facebook said in an email statement “We feel that the lack of scrutiny and consultation do not do justice to the importance of the subject. We will continue to do everything we can to ensure safety for the people on our platform.” In an earlier communication, Facebook said that "The draft law provides an incentive to delete content that is not clearly illegal when social networks face such a disproportionate threat of fines."
This response to an undeniable crisis that democracy is facing worldwide feels like a shortcut where misinformation is just made a problem for private companies with deep pockets to solve. 
Brussels-based digital rights group EDRI voiced the main - and frankly self explanatory -  concern of human rights champions the best: “(social media) companies are, quite rationally, driven by the motivation to avoid liability, using the cheapest options available, and to exploit the political legitimisation of their restrictive measures for profit. This can only lead to privatised, unpredictable online censorship”. 
In a statement dated 1st June and expecting response within 60 days, David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, said that "the law raises serious concerns about freedom of expression and the right to privacy online." First the rapporteur recalled the relevant articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Germany in 1973. He subsequently expressed his deep concern particularly with regard to the "prohibition on the dissemination of information based on vague and ambiguous criteria such as ‘insult' and 'defamation’”, the fact that "many of the violations covered by the bill are highly dependent on context”, and that even the definition of social network as adopted in the bill is approximate. 


Elena Perotti's picture

Elena Perotti


2017-07-03 12:30

Author information

The news publishing industry is experiencing transformation at an ever-growing pace, with new policy issues arising as the landscape changes.

We will be examining policy discussions that will define the news publishing environment of the future, the key topics being internet governance, privacy and copyright. Click here to learn more about our work.

WAN-IFRA Media Policy team and experts.

© 2020 WAN-IFRA - World Association of News Publishers

Footer Navigation