Germany to tighten screws on online hate speech

Law will step up pressure on social networking firms like Facebook and Twitter to quickly remove offending content


Afp February 19, 2020
Law will step up pressure on social networking firms like Facebook and Twitter to quickly remove offending content. PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN: With growing dangers from far-right extremist groups and torrents of threats against politicians, Germany is set to toughen online speech laws and tighten the screws on social networks.

Ministers in Chancellor Angela Merkel's government are expected to wave through a new package of measures on Wednesday, days after 12 men were arrested for planning deadly attacks on mosques, communicating in part via chat groups.

"In future, those who make threats or spread hate online will be prosecuted more toughly and more effectively," Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht said on her ministry's website.

One headline measure in the draft law will step up the pressure on social networking firms like Facebook and Twitter to quickly remove the offending content.

In future, the Silicon Valley giants will also have to report certain types of illegal posts to the federal police, who will be able to pass on actionable data to prosecutors.

Covered under such rules would be neo-Nazi propaganda or plans to commit a terrorist attack.

But people approving of crimes, making death or rape threats or sharing child pornography images could also be caught in the widened net.

New social media laws not meant to muzzle dissent

Social media platforms that refuse to cooperate will face fines of up to 50 million euros.

"Hate crimes will finally end up where they belong: before a court," Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said.

On top of the new reporting processes, Berlin wants to toughen potential sentences, including up to three years in prison for online death or rape threats.

Especially in recent months, the spread of anti-Semitic messages online -- including a bizarre screed written by the perpetrator of an attack targeting a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle in Octboer 2019 -- has also grown.

The draft law would sharpen sentences still further for crimes arising from an anti-Semitic motive, which the justice ministry says have increased 40 percent since 2013.

But there are limits to the rules, leaving it up to the person affected to pursue cases of insult or libel.

 

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