German parliament moves to toughen online hate speech rules

Germany has moved toward being more aggressive against online hate speech | Denis Charlet/AFP via Getty Images

Bundestag approves law forcing social media platforms to proactively report serious cases of hate speech to authorities.

BERLIN — Germany’s lower house of parliament on Thursday approved a law that will force large social media platforms to proactively report serious cases of hate speech to law enforcement.

“We have to do more to prevent hate and slander from spreading online,” said Johannes Fechner, the spokesperson on legal affairs for the Social Democrats (SPD), the party of Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s junior coalition partner.

Before taking effect, the law still needs to be approved by the Bundesrat, the country’s upper house of parliament. A vote is scheduled for September 18 but could take place even earlier than that, according to parliament officials.

Germany’s Network Enforcement Act, better known as NetzDG, was passed in 2017 and is considered one of the most stringent efforts by Western democracies to control posts on social media. Amid a rise in right-wing extremism online, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government last year announced it would further toughen its rules to force platforms like Facebook or Twitter to flag particularly serious examples of hate speech — such as incitement of racial hatred — to the Federal Criminal Police Office.

The move has drawn criticism from civil liberties advocates, industry officials and legal experts, who warn that the new rules will infringe privacy standards, open the door to more surveillance and allow for unnecessary data collection.

The law passed today isn’t the only upgrade to the NetzDG in the making. A second draft law, which is in an earlier stage, also aims to force platforms to make it easier for users to report hate speech and challenge content decisions.

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