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Why you should worry about Europe’s new hate speech laws

By Mars Dorian, {grow} Contributing Columnist

If you’re creating content and/or social media updates in Europe, or you’re creating content that you want Europeans to consume, you should be aware of recent changes in definitions of free speech, especially in Germany.

Europe’s biggest country and economic powerhouse has tightened its claws on freedom of expression. As of January 2018, the Ministry of Justice has enforced a law called ‘NetzDG’, the Network Enforcement Act. The new law makes social media networks responsible for their users’ content and fines tech companies up to €50 million (about $60 million) if they fail to remove “illegal” posts within 24 hours.

The law influences Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram but leaves out career networks like LinkedIn and its European counterpart Xing.

You might ask yourself—why the heck should I care? Well, for multiple reasons.
If you’re crafting content and updates for European/German audiences, you want to know about their do’s and don’ts.

You risk account suspension otherwise.

Plus, other countries and territories are pondering similar issues. For example, the US Congress is debating laws concerning extremist content on Twitter and Facebook.

Below are three issues to think about before posting potentially ‘inciting’ content. Please keep in mind that I’m no legal expert. These tips should give you only an idea of what is happening.

1) Refrain from defamatory posts and incitements of violence

Europe handles defamatory posts more strictly than the US. In general, you should refrain from posting unwarranted claims against individuals. Don’t post strong insults or unproven accusations, especially if they run the danger of (potentially) ruining a person’s reputation.

The same is true for discriminating against groups based on their gender/ethnicity/religion/nationality. For example, claiming that group “X” is responsible for “Y” can get you in hot water. In general, the more specific your ‘inciting’ posts, the higher the risk of breaking the hate speech law. The vaguer your posts are, the safer you tend to be. Implying instead of directly naming individuals and groups gives you more leeway.

Educate yourself on the matter if you want to dive deeper. The German Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection has posted the English PDF on their official website.

While refraining from defamatory posts and incitements of violence may seem obvious, the issue gets dicey quickly.

2) Context doesn’t matter

Titanic, a German satire magazine, posted a tweet parody of a controversial German politician’s statement. Without going into specifics, the politician’s account was taken down because she claimed group X was responsible for certain horrendous actions. The account of the satire magazine who mocked the tweet was also blocked.

Titanic editor in chief Tim Wolff was “shocked” by Twitter’s decision to block the magazine’s account.

On December 22, about a week before the German state fully implemented the controversial NetzDG law, 28-year-old Mike Samuel Delberg, a political representative of Berlin’s Jewish community, has been suspended on Facebook for uploading a video of an Israeli restaurant owner being threatened on the street. Facebook reinstated the account after many complaints were filed.

It’s unclear whether to blame Facebook’s algorithm or the vagueness of the new law, but sharing (acts of) hate speech, even when you criticize or mock them, apparently will be treated as hate speech itself.

Context doesn’t matter.

3) When in doubt, don’t share

The controversial law has drawn criticism from the opposition in government and the German Federation of Journalists. Nevertheless, it is being enforced. Since the EU Commission has implemented similar laws for the greater Europe, knowing what and what-not-to post becomes crucial if you serve that market.

So if you fear that your content or update might be considered an incitement of violence or a form of hate speech against individuals or groups,
don’t post it, not even when you mock or report on it.

If you want to learn more about Europe’s hate speech laws in regard to social media, check out the press release from January 2018.

Conclusion

Whatever side on the political spectrum you’re on, these changes shows us what the near future of the internet will look like: social media companies censoring messages, online videos and posts to avoid getting burdened by regulations and/or punishments by law. It’s important to know about these issues so your profiles and content won’t be taken down — for now.

Mars Dorian is an illustrating designer and storyteller. He crafts words and pictures that help clients stand out online and reach their customers. You can find his homebase at www.marsdorian.com and connect with him on Twitter @marsdorian.

Original illustration by the author.