Germany fines Twitter for failing to censor hate speech enough

German regulators have launched proceedings to fine Twitter for alleged failures to remove “illegal” content on the platform, such as hate speech and slurs.

On Tuesday, the Federal Office of Justice (BfJ) in Berlin announced that it had taken legal action against Twitter under the Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG), a 2018 law aimed at combating so-called speech of hate on the Internet, which unlike the United States, is illegal in Germany.

In a statement, the German regulator accused the Silicon Valley microblogging site of a “systemic failure” to meet the legal obligation to quickly remove content that users flag as potentially illegal. Under the legislation, companies can be fined up to €50 million.

“Twitter is required to provide an effective and transparent process for handling user complaints about illegal content. Among other things, he must immediately become aware of the reported content, check whether it is illegal within the meaning of the NetzDG, and illegal content, in compliance with the legal period of seven regular days or 24 hours in the event of manifest illegality, delete or block access to it,” wrote the Federal Office of Justice.

“The Internet is not a lawless space”, added the Minister of Justice, Marco Buschmann. “Platforms shouldn’t just accept it if their services are being misused to deliver criminal content.”

Under Germany’s criminal code, which has some of the world’s strictest hate speech regulations, it is illegal to “violate the human dignity” of others by “maliciously insulting, slandering or defaming a group defined by its national, racial and religious characteristics. or ethnic origin, ideology, disability or sexual orientation”, punishable by up to two years in prison.

With the implementation of the NetzDG law in 2018, the German government has significantly stepped up its efforts to crack down on hate speech online. However, as has been typical of Western governments in recent years, Berlin has outsourced the enforcement of censorship of such speech to the websites and platforms themselves.

Free speech advocates on both the right and left of the political spectrum have condemned the law, with Human Rights Watch warning after it was passed that by requiring social media sites to remove hate speech or other criminal content, the German government was setting a “dangerous precedent for other governments seeking to restrict online speech”.

Wenzel Michalski, German director of Human Rights Watch, said of the law at the time: “It is vague, overbroad and turns private companies into overzealous censors to avoid heavy fines, leaving users without judicial oversight. no right to appeal.

The law has already been used to fine Silicon Valley tech giant Facebook $2.3 million for similar alleged breaches of content moderation.

The structure by which the German regulator seeks to fine Twitter is separate from the recently enacted EU-wide Digital Services Act (DSA), which came into effect earlier this year. Like Germany’s NetzDG law, the Brussels-led legislation will similarly compel internet companies to act as enforcers of the bloc’s speech restrictions.

Platforms or websites that fail to comply with the law by February 2024 will face EU fines of up to 6% of their global revenue, as well as a possible outright ban from Europe.

The architect of the censored legislation, Thierry Breton, a French tech executive turned EU internal market commissioner, previously warned new Twitter boss Elon Musk that the company risks being banned in the European Union. if he lived up to his promise to restore the platform to its roots of free speech.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka

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