The Pitfalls of Germany’s New Hate Speech Law

Transatlantic Digital Debates Fellows Discuss Germany's New Network Enforcement Law

On June 30, the German Bundestag passed the network enforcement law (Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz, or NetzDG), requiring that social media companies with more than 2 million registered German users delete unlawful content, such as hate speech, from their platforms. 

Meant to address the increasing relevance of social media in public discourse, the bill was rushed through the parliamentary process ahead of Germany’s federal elections this fall, despite widespread unease among legal experts and unaddressed questions about the law’s interpretation. Imposing short deadlines for deleting content and steep fines for noncompliance, the NetzDG not only puts technology companies in a difficult position; it also saddles them with increasing responsibility to enforce Germany’s laws online – a vexing position for companies like Facebook or Twitter, which face dozens of differing legal environments around the globe. To many, the law even represents a threat to freedom of speech itself, as social media companies might have an incentive to err on the site of deletion when deleting with potentially illegal content.

In this discussion, Transatlantic Digital Debates Fellows Graham Webster and Niklas Kossow outline everything you need to know about the law, including its pronunciation. They go beyond the background information to discuss the law’s implications for other nations and ask who should really be judging hate speech online. Graham and Niklas had this discussion as part of the Transatlantic Digital Debates, a fellowship program organized by GPPi and New America. The program engages 18 young professionals (nine from the US and nine from Germany) from the public sector, civil society, business, and academia on key challenges at the intersection of technology and policy.