Berlin For two years now, online platforms such as Facebook or Twitter have had to comply with the so-called Network Enforcement Act. The NetzDG, so the short form is to force the Internet companies to quickly delete criminally illegal content. Anyone who repeats the rules and systematically fails to comply threatens penalties in the millions.
The regulations were controversial from the beginning. Critics saw freedom of speech threatened as platform operators could prematurely erase posts for fear of fines. Even if such Overblocking of contents according to Federal Ministry of Justice did not occur, the law is now to be tightened. “We will take more seriously the social networks,” said Federal Minister of Justice Christine Lambrecht (SPD) the Handelsblatt. “Facebook & Co. must live up to their responsibilities for what happens on their platforms.”
What is actually changed depends on the result of the evaluation of the NetzDG, which is currently being prepared. The fact that there is room for improvement is shown by the different ways in which networks deal with reported content. Facebook had recently filed a fine of two million euros, because a transparency report according to Federal Office of Justice (BfJ) was incomplete. It was also criticized that the registration form for user complaints was “too hidden”. This may also explain why Facebook received just under 680 complaints in the first half of 2019, while Twitter registered around half a million submissions in the same period.
CDU digital politician Tankred Schipanski therefore advocates clarifying the criteria for the transparency reports in the law in order to achieve better comparability between the platforms. “We will examine whether further concretisations are needed here”, said the SPD digital politician Jens Zimmermann. The coalition will submit proposals for the further development of the NetzDG this year.
Lambrecht announced on ZDF “solutions” for easier reporting channels. In addition, the minister wants the coordination between platforms and law enforcement agencies “even closer, so that prosecution is also possible quickly.”
The German Judges Association sees here even urgent action: “So far, the prosecutors are the social networks as a petitioner,” said Federal Managing Director Sven Rebehn the Handelsblatt. Facebook, for example, regularly answers inquiries with the “insubstantial” information that a request for mutual legal assistance should be directed to the USA, which is hopeless because of the legal situation there. “It urgently requires a legal obligation for the networks to provide user data such as name and e-mail address in the case of suspected criminal offenses, as is the case for telecommunications providers.”
“Legislative lethargy is completely incomprehensible”
References to legal aid requests, the Hamburg Justice Senator Till Steffen (Greens) “no longer accept as an answer,” as he said. If the public prosecutor's office needed information, the domestic service representatives of the networks would have to look after criminal and civil disputes. The SPD politician Zimmermann also pleaded to examine “whether there is a need to strengthen civil-law instruments, such as with regard to claims to information, so that those affected can better defend themselves”.
The Greens in the Bundestag accused the Federal Government, to date, any criticism of the NetzDG and suggestions for improvement to ignore. “Their legislative lethargy is absolutely incomprehensible – especially since CDU / CSU and SPD already agreed in their coalition agreement on an evaluation and revision of the law,” write the Green Party politicians Konstantin von Notz and Renate Künast in a guest post in Handelsblatt.
Specifically criticize the members of the Bundestag that the rules are “in many places too unconcrete and sanction mechanisms are not enough”. For example, registration channels for checking content are difficult to find for users. In addition, there is a lack of a uniform method for deleting content.
In general, the FDP digital politician Manuel Höferlin is opposed to the law. The NetzDG is “a law for the ton,” said the member of the Bundestag Handelsblatt. “Ultimately, it is unacceptable that a perceived social media brutality be counteracted at the expense of freedom of expression.”
Because actually punishable contents could be legally effective combat even without NetzDG. Besides, laws would not help against sentiments. “We must combat such negative phenomena as a society in the discourse and not by questionable laws,” said the FDP politician.
Call for European regulations
Alternatively, Höferlin suggested that he be guided by the systems of regulated self-regulation in the protection of minors and in other areas that had been successfully established there. “Such solutions should also be discussed in relation to social networks,” he said. “For example, if social networks were to commit to having community hotlines and cooperating with state regulators, society could in future be much better involved in tackling the problem than it is at present.”
Even better would be a view of the Hamburg Senator of Justice Steffen a European alliance in the fight against hatred in the network. The fact that France recently became active with its own NetzDG is to be welcomed. However, “European regulations would, of course, be even better and, ideally, like the GDPR, could become a kind of global standard against hatred and hate speech.”
Lambrecht is not averse to this idea. EU solutions were “especially in cross-border issues such as online communication – in principle welcome and desirable,” it said from her ministry.
The judges see a European approach, however, skeptical. Under the heading of E-Evidence, the EU states worked to oblige Internet companies to collaborate much faster with law enforcement. And it makes sense, so that the problems in hate crime solve as European as possible, said CEO Rebehn. “The road to Europe, however, has the disadvantage that it may take two to three years before harsher rules for information from social networks actually come into force.”
More: Read here why the Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG) has more than missed its targets so far and that it is long overdue.
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