Germany’s new hate speech law has forced Twitter to block its first far-right troll

Germany’s Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz (or NetzDG) may not slip off the tongue in English, but the new law – which targets fake news and hate speech – has made an immediate impact. The Network Enforcement Act came into effect on New Year’s Day and someone has already fallen foul of it.

Germany’s new hate speech law has forced Twitter to block its first far-right troll

Beatrix Von Storch, one of the leading lawmakers of the Alternative for Germany (AFD) party was blocked from Twitter and Facebook after responding to a new year’s tweet from the Cologne police which was written in Arabic.

“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,” she wrote on Twitter.

Twitter was quick to delete the tweet, with Von Storch’s account being blocked for 12 hours and her Facebook account being censored. The Cologne police also filed a criminal complaint against the politician for hate speech.

The NetzDG law has technically been in place since October 2017, but large companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were given a three-month grace period to prepare themselves. The law forces large tech companies to pay enormous fines of up to £44.3 million if they don’t remove illegal content within 24 hours of them being shared on the platform, with an additional week given for more complex cases. The law also requires major social media networks to have comprehensive complaint structures in place, so that people are able to quickly and easily report hate speech, fake news, or illegal content.

In preparation, Facebook hired hundreds of staff in Germany to handle NetzDG and effectively deal with complaints. Twitter already automatically blocks neonazi and white supremacist content in the country, though does not extend the feature to areas where not required by law.

The German government has been known to take a hard stance on online abuse in the past, notably having raided homes of those linked to online hate speech last year. Among privacy campaigners, the Network Enforcement Act is obviously highly controversial with campaigners fearing that NetzDG will stifle free speech, but with social media in such a lamentable state, others have called for much more stringent action.  

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