A German legislator uses a mobile device during a session of the Bundestag in Berlin, March 1, 2013. (AP/Gero Breloer)

Proposed German legislation threatens broad internet censorship

By Courtney C. Radsch/CPJ Advocacy Director on April 20, 2017 9:53 AM ET

The German cabinet on April 5 approved a "Draft Law to Improve Law Enforcement in Social Networks" (Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz), ostensibly aimed at combatting disinformation and hate speech, that raises concerns about restrictions on free expression and the privatization of censorship. The law would compel social media companies to remove content or risk fines as high as 50 million euros. Human rights and press freedom groups, including CPJ, joined several social media companies that have been at the center of the debate over "fake news" and hate speech to express concern over the proposed law.

The statement by the Global Network Initiative (GNI) today follows increase pressure from governments on internet and social media firms to counteract the rise of propaganda, misinformation, and so-called "fake news" as well as ongoing concerns about how to combat hate speech in the digital age, particularly in Europe.

While the law applies to "social media networks" with more than two million users and includes an exception for "platforms with journalist content for which the platform operation takes full responsibility," overly broad language could affect a range of platforms and services and put decisions about what is illegal content into the hands of private companies that may be inclined to over-censor in order to avoid potential fines. CPJ has previously raised concerns about proposals that would encourage the privatization of censorship.

GNI is a coalition of leading technology companies--including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo--and human rights groups, digital freedom advocates, and ethical investors that promotes privacy and freedom of expression online.

The full, joint statement is available on GNI's website.

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