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Explained: Why social media companies in Germany may soon have to report hate speech to police

The draft Bill, which is yet to be approved by Germany's Parliament, aims to combat rightwing extremism and hate crime “more intensively and effectively”.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: February 21, 2020 9:15:34 am
Germany, Germany social media law, Germany hate speech law, Germany facebook law, hate speech on social media, express explained Observers have said that the draft law is the toughest of its kind in the world. Some have expressed concern that it amounts to censoring the Internet.

On Wednesday (February 19), the German cabinet approved a Bill that will require social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to report certain kinds of hate speech to police.

The draft Bill, which is yet to be approved by Germany’s Parliament, aims to combat rightwing extremism and hate crime “more intensively and effectively”.

In 2017, Germany passed The Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz (NetzDG) law, which came into force in October that year. Under the provisions of this law, social media networks with more than 2 million users must act within 24 hours of being informed about “law breaking” material.

Failure to comply can attract fines up to €50 million.

While the 2017 law requires Internet companies to delete or block posts that include certain kinds of hate speech, the new draft law obliges these companies to not only remove certain kinds of hate speech, but to also report such content to the Office of the Federal Criminal Police (BKA).

Observers have said that the draft law is the toughest of its kind in the world. Some have expressed concern that it amounts to censoring the Internet.

The European Union (EU) defines hate speech as public incitement to violence or hatred, or targeting groups or individuals on the basis of certain characteristics, including race, colour, religion, descent and national or ethnic origin.

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Scope of the draft law

Under Germany’s criminal law, only the threat of a crime — usually a death threat — is punishable. The draft law proposes that threats against sexual self-determination, physical integrity, personal freedom, or “against objects of significant value that are directed against the person concerned or persons close to them” should also be punishable.

The punishment for a threat made online is proposed to be up to two years, and for one made in person, up to three years, along with a fine.

Under the draft law, “loud and aggressive” insults that amount to “psychological violence” are punishable. It also proposes to punish defamation of people in political life, the disruption of public peace, and anti-Semitism.

Social media websites will be required to report to the BKA the following criminal offences: dissemination of propaganda, preparation of serious acts of violence, incitement and depictions of violence, rewarding and approving crimes, and distribution of child pornography recordings.

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