Hate speech and fake news have been a concern for European authorities ever since Donald Trump was elected the 45th US president. Now Germany has taken its next step towards internet censorship in the name of hate speech and fake news.
The German cabinet, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, has approved a bill to impose a fine on social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube of up to $50 million if the companies do not delete illegal content fast enough. But that's not where this stops.
Social networks with at least two million German users are required to file a report in German about how they dealt with complaints about content. These reports have to be published quarterly and contain
1. how the social network tries to prevent the publishing of illegal content,
2. how complaints are transmitted and what criteria the social network uses to make a decision on the deletion of illegal contents.
3. the number of complaints , itemized by who filed the complaint and why.
4. organisation, staff setting, competence of the working units that process the complaints as well as training and supervision of the employees.
5. number of complaints on which an external organisation was consulted.
6. number of complaints that led to the deletion of content, itemized by who filed the complaint and why.
7. time elapsed between filing of the complaint and deletion of the content, itemized by who filed the complaint, why and how long it took (under 24 hours, under 48 hours, under 7 days, longer).
8. measures to inform the complainant and the accused about the decision on the complaint.
Furthermore, "obviously illegal content" (the law does NOT contain a definition of that) has to be deleted within 24 hours, every other illegal content within seven days. If any social network does not meet those provisions, it faces up to $50 million in fines. Furthermore, the content must be saved up to ten weeks on German servers.
After all, it does not only seem like German minister of justice Heiko Maas (SPD, social democrats) has no clue about how the internet works, but also does not care a tiny bit about the rule of law. With this law, the power to decide which speech is legal and which is not will be shifted from the courts and judges to the social networks and the companies behind them.
The road to censorship is paved with good intentions.