German opposition calls for abolition of online hate speech law

Germany’s opposition parties on Sunday called for the abolition of a new law that aims to rid social media of hate speech, saying it was wrong for private companies to be making decisions about whether posts are unlawful.

The legislation, which came into force on January 1, can impose fines of up to 50 million euros ($60.1 million) on sites that fail to remove hate speech promptly, raising fears that Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms could block more content than necessary.

So far Twitter has deleted anti-migrant posts by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and also blocked satirical magazine Titanic’s account after it parodied the comments.

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Nicola Beer, general secretary of the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), told Welt am Sonntag newspaper that prosecuting authorities needed to be equipped with tools to enforce the law on the internet rather than leaving decisions about the legality of posts to platform operators.

“The past few days have clearly shown that private providers aren’t always able to make the right decision about whether suspected criminal statements made online are unlawful, satirical or a tasteless expression of opinion that nonetheless needs to be tolerated in a democracy,” she said.

Beer added that the existing law needed to be replaced with a “proper” one.

Simone Peter, leader of the Greens, told the same newspaper that it was not acceptable that US companies such as Twitter were able to influence freedom of opinion and the press in Germany, referring to the suspension of Titanic’s account.

She said networks such as Twitter need to take some responsibility for posts on their platforms but “without being given the role of judge”.

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After the Titanic account was blocked a Twitter spokesman said the company did not comment on individual accounts for reasons of privacy and security.

Sahra Wagenknecht, a parliamentary leader of the radical Left, told the Funke group of newspapers that her party supported initiatives to abandon the law.

“The law is a slap in the face for all democratic principles because, in a constitutional state, courts rather than companies make decisions about what is unlawful and what is not,” she said.

The AfD has already announced that it will consider filing a complaint against the law.

On Thursday Germany’s top-selling Bild newspaper also called for the law to be scrapped, saying it was stifling free speech and making martyrs out of anti-immigrant politicians whose posts are deleted.

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