Since the German Law on Improving Law Enforcement in Social Networks (NetzDG) has come into force, the Amadeu Antonio Foundation has reiterated its criticism of the legislation. In its present form, the act is not achieving what it purports to do.
The act was intended to improve law enforcement in cases involving indictable hate contents. It has abrogated the decision on the indictability of contents to the companies concerned and has thus privatised sovereign law enforcement. The targeted improvement in law enforcement within the context of indictable hate contents was thus not perceptibly achieved, on the contrary: since the act came into force at the beginning of this year, it is evident that the network operators, in view of imminent fines, are increasingly deleting postings that are not unequivocally indictable or are to be comprehended as satire.
The answer must therefore be a digital democratic civil society. The traditional civil society must translate its activities to the digital space, joining forces with online activists. In this regard, prevention work online is becoming of increasing importance; youth in particular no longer distinguish between on- and offline and are being specifically targeted by alternative-right campaigns. Holistic prevention work should therefore consider the impact of narratives on young people and seek to counteract their radicalizing effects. Children and youth need trained contacts or mentors from within the youth and educational social-services milieu who can provide online-relationship assistance, who can evaluate and limit the impact of online hate, and who are familiar with the legal aspects of victim protection. However, many providers have only just begun the process of transferring proven pedagogical concepts to the digital environment – not only with regard to staffing, but also with regard to their own digital literacy and digital presence. Many tried-and-tested methods are ineffective online, and must accordingly be further developed or revised, for instance into a form of online outreach that takes narratives and their impact into account.
This validates the principal points of criticism that the Amadeu Antonio Foundation had formulated concerning the draft legislation back in April 2017:
- The privatisation of law enforcement under penalty of fines leads to premature deletion of postings, and thus puts at risk a digital debate culture.
- The specification of extremely short processing times prevents adequate scrutiny of the contents involved, and opens the floodgates for the abuse of complaints.
- By surrendering its prerogative of law enforcement, the state is evading its duty to grant a fair hearing to the parties involved.
- Due to swift deletion of postings, law enforcement will presumptively prove more difficult in practice.
The foundation’s complete comments on criticisms of the NetzDG can be found under
Since it is becoming apparent that the NetzDG is not being fundamentally questioned by the current coalition parties, the Amadeu Antonio Foundation is appealing to the negotiating parties to amend it in terms of practical implementation.
In a state governed by the rule of law, private companies should not be autonomously deciding what statements are permitted and what are not. This is why the network operators should be given an option for referring doubtful cases to constitutionally responsible bodies, without the threat of a fine due to delayed processing of a report. This will necessitate more professionally trained staff in the police, the courts and the public prosecutors, and improved cooperation between all government agencies at federal, state and municipal levels.
Besides combatting hate speech as a symptom, efforts by the state and the network operators should be focusing more intensively on addressing the causes of hate on the net in their holistic social context. This includes both strengthening a digital civil society and investing in digital education and online street-work, plus anchoring contents for digital democratic education in schools and adult educational institutions.