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Heiko Maas Smartphone
Image: Getty Images/A. Berry

Maas threatens sanctions over hate speech posts

October 26, 2016

Social media firms who purvey hate speech will be targeted in the EU's revised audio-visual directive, Germany's justice minister has warned. Heiko Maas said Facebook and Twitter post deletions are still too slow.


German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said Wednesday social media operators must "significantly" cut down on xenophobic posts by March 2017 as Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet examined a report showing a 77 percent surge in hate crimes in Germany last year.

Simultaneously, veteran German criminologist Christian Pfeiffer said Germany's Telemedia Law should be amended to compel social media operators to reveal online perpetrators.

Prosecutors currently have little chance of obtaining data on perpetrators, Pfeifer said. Hate speech posts would drop, he forecast, when individuals were put on trial.

Kriminologe Professor Christian Pfeifer
Detection and 'spectacular' trials needed, says PfeifferImage: Imago/M. Stauffenberg

Last December, Facebook, Twitter and Google pledged to remove offensive posts in Germany within 24 hours. Users say their requests to take down hate speech often go unheeded.

EU directive pending

Maas (pictured above) told the German media outlet "Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland" (RND) that his ministry was seeking sanctions within the Audiovisual Media Services Directive being revised by the EU to fit digital trends of the 21st century.

Deletions of hateful content by social media firms were still "too few and too slow," said Mass, who is among numerous members of Merkel's cabinet who have made appeals to operators to enact voluntary controls.

"In Europe we're currently discussing the audiovisual directive," Maas said in a veiled warning.

It would regulate media providers' material, including social media outlets that were currently "privileged" in not paying for such content, he said.

'Spectacular' trials needed

Criminologist Pfeiffer told German public radio Deutschlandfunk on Wednesday that Germany's Telemedia Act should be amended, resulting in a few "spectacular" criminal trials to set examples.

"Our justice minister Maas has tried for over a year to stem it on a voluntary basis. The Bundestag [parliament] has done its part by sharpening penalties for those who perpetrate hate offences.

Follow the Hashtag: #NoHateSpeech

"But the flow is not declining because no chance exists for state attorneys to trace the perpetrators, although Facebook and the others know exactly who they are, but they don't disclose this," Pfeiffer said.

All international firms active on the Internet in Germany should be required to name representatives so they can be made liable, said Pfeifer. He added that by not naming representatives, the firms currently "evade every responsibility."

Hate crimes outweigh privacy

Perpetrators of hate speech were not entitled to data privacy protections contained in Germany's Telemedia Law, Pfeiffer said, adding that Germany's federal and regional state justice ministers should amend that legislation.

"So that we at last get a foot in the door so that these people who produce murder threats and hate mail are brought before court."

"The Internet is an asset," he said, "but we have a right in this country, first, to ensure that hate mail is deleted and, second, that the perpetrators are detected."

One week or a hefty fine

Two weeks ago, Volker Kauder, the leader of Merkel's parliamentary faction warned that he had "run out of patience."

He suggested a fine of 50,000 euros ($55,000) if Internet companies failed to take down hate posts within a week.

Punishment and fines

The Brussel's draft audiovisual directive already includes a passage entitled "prohibition of hate speech" that refers to a 2008 EU "framework decision" to tackle racism and xenophobia via criminal law proceedings.

Its first two articles urge the bloc's 28 member nations to punish persons who publicly incite or aid and abet violence and hatred with prison terms of up to three years. Liable legal entities can be fined or lose subsidies.

ipj/rs (AFP, dradio, KNA)

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