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Germany: Law requiring social media companies to remove 'illegal content' violates free speech, according to Human Rights Watch

Author: Human Rights Watch, Published on: 16 February 2018

"Germany: Flawed social media law," 14 February 2018

“Governments and the public have valid concerns about the proliferation of illegal or abusive content online, but the new German law is fundamentally flawed,” said Wenzel Michalski, Germany director at Human Rights Watch. “It is vague, overbroad, and turns private companies into overzealous censors to avoid steep fines, leaving users with no judicial oversight or right to appeal.” Parliament approved the Network Enforcement Act, commonly known as NetzDG, on June 30, 2017, and it took full effect on January 1, 2018.

The law requires large social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube, to promptly remove “illegal content,”... ranging widely from insult of public office to actual threats of violence... At least three countries – Russia, Singapore, and the Philippines – have directly cited the German law as a positive example as they contemplate... legislation... Many organizations dedicated to human rights and media freedom have opposed the law since it first appeared in draft form... In an open letter to eight EU commissioners, a group of six civil society and industry associations said the law would chill freedom of speech online by incentivizing companies to remove reported content... The United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, said the draft law was at odds with international human rights standards... Google, which owns YouTube, announced in December 2017 that, over the next year, it would bring the total number of people working to address content that might violate its policies to over 10,000. Facebook told Human Rights Watch that it employs about 10,000 content reviewers globally... primarily to monitor violations of its “Community Standards” but also violations of NetzDG.

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