German opposition parties call to replace online hate speech law | News | DW | 08.01.2018
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German opposition parties call to replace online hate speech law

The NetzDG law has been in force since the New Year and has already sparked multiple controversies. Opposition parties across the political spectrum including the Free Democrats, Greens and Left say its time for change.

Senior figures in the rival Free Democratic (FDP), Green and Left parties on Sunday demanded lawmakers replace Germany's recently passed online hate speech law. The call comes after Twitter decided to delete allegedly offensive statements by far-right politicians and suspend the account of a German satirical magazine.

"The last few days have emphatically shown that private companies cannot correctly determine whether a questionable online statement is illegal, satirical or tasteless yet still democratically legitimate," the FDP's general secretary Nicola Beer (pictured above) told Germany weekly Die Welt am Sonntag.

Beer said Germany needed a law similar to the one the FDP proposed before Christmas that would give an "appropriately endowed authority" the right to enforce the rule of law online rather than give private companies the right to determine the illegality of flagged content.

Read more: German satire magazine Titanic back on Twitter following 'hate speech' ban

Simone Peter (picture alliance/dpa/S. Stein)

Simone Peter also called for the controversial law to be replaced

Greens join the chorus...

Speaking to Die Welt am Sonntag, Green Party Chairwoman Simone Peter also called for a replacement law that would take away the right of private companies to make decisions regarding flagged content.

"It is not acceptable for US companies such as Twitter to influence freedom of expression or press freedoms in Germany," Peter said. "Last year, we proposed a clear legal alternative that would hold platforms such as Twitter accountable without making them judges."

Greens' internet policy spokesman, Konstantin von Notz, also criticized the current statute, telling the newspaper that the reform of the law was overdue.

Read more: Germany implements new internet hate speech crackdown

Sarah Wagenknecht (picture-alliance/dpa/J. Woitas)

Left leader Sarah Wagenknecht called the law a 'slap in the face of all democratic principles'

...as does the Left party

The parliamentary leader of the socialist Left party, Sahra Wagenknecht, told the Funke group of newspapers her party also supported moves to get rid of the law.

"The law is a slap in the face of all democratic principles because, in a constitutional state, courts rather than private companies make decisions about what is lawful and what is not," Wagenknecht said.

January 1 marked the start of a new "network enforcement law" (NetzDG) that forces internet platforms with more than 2 million users to delete illegal content in Germany within 24 hours of receiving a complaint. Failure to respond in time risks fines up to €50 million ($60 million).

Controversial law

The law sparked controversy after Twitter deleted posts from Beatrix von Storch, the deputy parliamentary group leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), and satirical magazine Titanic.

Von Storch responded to an Arabic-language Twitter post by Cologne police on New Year's Eve by writing: "What the hell is happening in this country? Why is an official police site tweeting in Arabic? Do you think it is to appease the barbaric, gang-raping hordes of Muslim men?"

Read more: Germany's populist AfD seeks to turn online 'censorship' to its advantage

Cologne was the scene two years ago of mass sexual assaults on New Year's Eve. Most of the suspects were described as young men of North African and Arab origin.

Twitter informed von Storch that she had violated hate speech laws and temporarily suspended her account. The move led senior AfD politicians and the Federal Association of German Newspaper Publishers (BDZV) to complain that the NetzDG law had allowed Twitter to censor legitimate political opinions.

Hannover AfD - Beatrix von Storch (picture-alliance/dpa/H. Dittrich)

Von Storch and fellow AfD politicians have criticized the NetzDG law for censoring political opinion

Censoring satire

The controversy intensified after Twitter suspended the account of German satirical magazine Titanic for publishing a series of posts by an imagined von Storch, including some that attempted to poke fun at her posts concerning Muslim men.

Twitter restored the account 48 hours later following strong criticism from users.

The magazine's editor, Tim Wolff, said Titanic would defend itself from further suspensions and that Germany's NetzDG risked undermining satire.

SPD minister defends law

The architect of the NetzDG law, Justice Minister Heiko Maas, a member of the Social Democrats (SPD) said in an interview with German daily Bild that the law was necessary because "social networks must adhere to our laws like everyone else," adding: "Freedom of expression is not a free pass for committing criminal offenses."

The head of the SPD parliamentary party, Andrea Nahles, also defended the law in in an interview with weekly Bild am Sonntag, saying it needed to be implemented.

"We need to ensure more responsibility in the internet — it is not outside of the law," she said. This [law] has nothing to do with censorship."

Read more: Twitter kicks out far-right radicals: What you need to know

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