back to article Germany gives social networks 24 hours to delete criminal content

Germany has followed through on its proposal to make social networks remove slanderous hate speech and fake news or face massive fines. The nation's Bundesministerium der Justiz und für Verbraucherschutz (Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection) has announced that cabinet approved a plan to force social network …

  1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Enforcement?

    One problem is different countries have very different ideas about free speech and where the line is between free speech and something else. What will fly in the US may not fly under these regulations. So, is the Fatherland trying to emulate the ferals and become the guardians of proper speech on the Internet?

    1. Nick Kew

      Re: Enforcement?

      This sounds like a way to sidestep any need for the usual processes of enforcement, such as courts. Threaten the carriers harshly enough, and keep the definition of what's allowed/not allowed sufficiently vague, and you've created a regime of fear in which virtually no debate can be allowed.

      DMCA is chilling and wide open to abuse, but this (as reported here) extends the regime from intellectual property to regular discussion, and leaves the problem for platforms all the more vague and ill-defined.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Enforcement?

        "This sounds like a way to sidestep any need for the usual processes of enforcement, such as courts."

        Not really. Presumably failure to comply would have to go through the courts at which point the criminality could be argued. What it does do is require some nifty decision making as to whether there would be a good case to take to court and some erring on the side of safety. Eventually there'd be sufficient court decisions to make this a more informed process.

        1. big_D Silver badge

          Re: Enforcement?

          There is already a large body of precedent for this sort of thing in other media - newspapers, film, television, literature, normal websites etc.

      2. one crazy media

        Re: Enforcement?

        Necessary to conatin the anti-social networks. I wish more countries will take a lesson from Germany.

    2. bazza Silver badge

      Re: Enforcement?

      Germany doesn't care one way or the other, so long as it has the desired effect in Germany.

      It's relatively easy for a website to serve content based on IP address, which would allow them to serve content accordingly. So the networks can easily pander to differing "free speech" sensibilities around the world. The problem the networks really face is if this works in Germany, expect to see similar laws passed everywhere else too.

      Another point; the article ponders how to enforce this against smaller networks that have no corporate presence in Germany. Well, I think they're less concerned about the smaller networks, they have less of an impact anyway. And they can still put out an international arrest warrant for the network's company directors.

      1. Ole Juul

        Re: Enforcement?

        "It's relatively easy for a website to serve content based on IP address,"

        It is easy to pretend you got it right. In the real world you will see lots of European IPs showing in the wrong country. These databases don't always get updated either. Advertising is one thing, but there is no current mechanism that is adequate for any purpose with legal consequences. On top of that, using a VPN is common and getting very popular.

        1. one crazy media

          Re: Enforcement?

          So what, if content gets filtered out?

          The content on these anti-social networks are mundane and useless.

          No, I don't belong to any of the anti-social networks.

      2. Tom Paine

        Re: Enforcement?

        It's relatively easy for a website to serve content based on IP address, which would allow them to serve content accordingly

        The first part of your statement is correct. The second part... not so much. (Hint: my employer's EMEA net blocks are SWIP'd to our London HQ... )

      3. one crazy media

        Re: Enforcement?

        Why should Germany care? Germany is not passing the law applicable to the entire world, are they?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Enforcement?

      No yank, this is just demanding that local law be respected, rather than everyone in the world being governed by Californian law. And if you can tailor adverts, you can certainly tailor content.

      Social media was a mistake.

      1. bazza Silver badge

        Re: Enforcement?

        No yank, this is just demanding that local law be respected, rather than everyone in the world being governed by Californian law. And if you can tailor adverts, you can certainly tailor content.

        Social media was a mistake.

        This may be the point in time at which the Si Valley outfits discover their free ride is over. Their only real way to comply with this new law and whatever it evolves into is to stop being free (they know who the users really are then).

        That raises an interesting problem. Would you pay to use:

        1) Google Search

        2) Google maps

        3) GMail

        4) FaceBook

        5) Twitter.

        For me the answers are 1) hmm, maybe, 2) hmmmm, 3) no, 4) definitely no, 5) over my dead body hell no.

        Even if I did pay to use such services, I would not want to be seeing any damned adverts, or be seeing any of my personal data being mined for advertising cues.

        1. chivo243 Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: Enforcement?

          @bazza

          1) No, there are other free search engines.

          2) No, I've already paid for a GPS for the car

          3)No, I'd set up my own mail server

          4)NO! Never have never will, touch wood...

          5)NO? What's twitter?

          If I did pay, I'd never want to see any kind of ad...

      2. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Enforcement?

        There are very clear definitions of what is legal and what is not legal in Germany.

        For example, anything that portrays the old National Socialist Party in a good light, is illegal - as is showing the swastika, unless it is in a historical context (E.g. documentary with old footage). Books like My Struggle (Mein Kampf) are illegal in Germany.

        As is hate speech, Holocaust denial and several other things. But they are all defined in law, so there is no excuse for the social networks to not remove such content, at least from pages served to Germany.

        A lot of Americans moan that this is picking on US based companies, similarly the data protection laws, but in fact it is making them follow the same rules as everyone else already follows.

        They seem to think, that they deserve special treatment. But if I, as a Brit, come to America and say, "f' you, I'm British, I'm going to drive on the left," I wouldn't get very far, before being arrested.

        The laws are there and must be obeyed, or you pay for the consequences, whether you like them or not.

        1. one crazy media

          Re: Enforcement?

          Completely agree with your points.

          As a practical matter U.S, does not have any protection laws so the US based companies are not used to it, especially the anti-social networks.

          It is not that difficult to filterout fake news and propoganda. Besides, none of their users are going to complain, even if some content is filtered out.

          1. tom dial Silver badge

            Re: Enforcement?

            It is not quite correct to say that the US has no protection laws. It does, but the first and fourteenth amendments to the Constitution severely, and in my opinion correctly, constrain them. There are, however, laws that constrain free speech, such as:

            Threats can be illegal if specific enough, although vague ones like "Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?" probably are not and certainly would be difficult to prosecute without a fair amount of context supporting a claim that it was meant as a specific directive to do something.

            Libel may be criminal, but I think is more commonly handled as a civil matter. Where political actors or other public figures are concerned, standards may be somewhat relaxed even here.

        2. Daniel von Asmuth

          Re: Enforcement?

          "There are very clear definitions of what is legal and what is not legal in Germany."

          Yes, there are. The proposed law makes it illegal (for a network operator) to publish illegal content. 'Strafbar' means 'punishable', which implies that the content and the creator may not have been convicted themselves. Fines of up to 50 Million Euroquid are way out of proportion.

          "Books like My Struggle (Mein Kampf) are illegal in Germany.".

          No. The copyright to Mein Kampf was owned by the state of Bavaria, which did not publish the book, but it expired in 2015, putting the book into the public domain. A new scholarly edition has since been published. The same applies to the Dutch translation.

          Better hurry that Brexit before Reg staff end up in Siberian camps.

    4. one crazy media

      Re: Enforcement?

      Realistically, US does not have any privacy laws. Personal information of US citizens is sold on the Internet for fee.

      You can buy anyone's information and recently Rump signed a law allowing ISP's to sell their customers information they gather as part of the service.

      EU privacy laws are much more stringent than the US.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Enforcement?

        EU privacy laws are much more stringent than the US.

        Being in America... I'm jealous. As pointed out, the Silly Valley folks are ruled only by profit and don't really care what any country says. They are not or should not be able to trump local law. If I make a car here in the US and want to sell it in Europe, I have to comply with EU laws and NOT American laws for the car. Stands to reason, the 'Net should be the same way.

    5. Daniel von Asmuth
      Mushroom

      Re: Enforcement?

      How many Cruise Missiles does the German Kanzler have?

      1. Toni the terrible Bronze badge

        Re: Enforcement?

        The German armed forces have a few, its true - or so I am told.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pssst

    Don't mention the war.

    I did once, but I think I got away with it.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: Pssst

      John Cleese (who may have invented the line in an episode of Fawlty Towers, he certainly used it) tells a story of being recognised in a German airport, and some large German repeated the line back to him whilst laughing his head off. Apparently it's one of Cleese's fondest outcomes from the whole Fawlty Towers thing.

      I think we underestimate their capacity for appreciation of Properly Funny Stuff!

      1. Vic

        Re: Pssst

        I think we underestimate their capacity for appreciation of Properly Funny Stuff!

        Indeed.

        It's often said that the Germans have no sense of humour.

        I put some lighting systems into a shop in Berlin a few months back; whoever designed the cabling system there had a particularly dry and wicked one...

        Vic.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

  3. frank ly

    This will be interesting and maybe nasty

    "... those who feel aggrieved by material posted about them should be able to learn the true identity of the poster."

    Maybe the US Department of Homeland Security could apply to a German court to force Twitter to give them the identity of @ALT_uscis.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: This will be interesting and maybe nasty

      The only way a social network can comply with this part of the law is if they force users to actually provide accurate data when user accounts are created. The only practical way of doing that is to get a credit card number and take some money from it, to establish the useful identity through the banking system.

      If they wanted to be a "free to use" network they could simply refund the money.

      The networks currently have no ability to discover anything else other than IP address of users. They cannot translate that into a street address without support from the ISPs. And the ISPs in Europe are not allowed to give that information out without the consent of the customer, or a warrant.

      So I think we may start seeing the credit card route being followed, which is certainly going to put a dent in the popularity of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

      Their biggest problem though could be deciding whether or not to agree to a request for identity revelation. That's a quasi-judicial role, so they may not be being asked to fulfil that role. Otherwise, if they got that wrong and they get done for breaches of the local Data Protection laws. Do it too slowly and there's a fine, maybe. I don't know how much compulsion has been put into this new law concerning identity - perhaps the networks are not being asked to act as judge, maybe they simply have to reveal identity if ordered by a German court. But the biggest step in this would be what obligation the networks are now under to know the proper name and address of their users.

      1. EricM

        Re: This will be interesting and maybe nasty

        "The only way a social network can comply with this part of the law is if they force users to actually provide accurate data when user accounts are created"

        No, the law "just" requires websites to hand over the IP address and time stamp a comment was posted from. It also requires ISPs to give out names and address of their customers based on that IP address and timestamp records to lawyers.

        Much like IP ( intellectual property in this case) enforcement is working in Germany.

        No credit card required. The lawyers get their names & addresses directly from the ISP - without a court order or any other due process.

        That, combined with very high fees of up to 50M€ for non-complying companies nearly guarantees abuse of this legislation to curb all sorts of private, political or commercial critics.

        So looks like using TOR will become mandatory for posting anything potentially controversial in Germany...

        1. Tom Paine
          Facepalm

          Re: This will be interesting and maybe nasty

          So looks like using TOR will become mandatory for posting anything potentially controversial in Germany...

          Yeah, right. I'll believe it when I see it, which is to say, never.

        2. bazza Silver badge

          Re: This will be interesting and maybe nasty

          @EricM,

          No, the law "just" requires websites to hand over the IP address and time stamp a comment was posted from. It also requires ISPs to give out names and address of their customers based on that IP address and timestamp records to lawyers.

          No credit card required. The lawyers get their names & addresses directly from the ISP - without a court order or any other due process.

          Aha, well that's a "let off" for the OtT social networks, and a cost burden for the ISPs. I wonder how the ISPs feel about that...

          Question is, how reliable that is? If it were to come to a prosecution, one wonders whether the combination of the social network's and ISP's records would be good enough to identify a user's identify beyond reasonable doubt. Given the poor quality of most ISP's systems it would be comparatively easy for a defence lawyer to argue that there is some doubt about the accuracy of the records.

          And it doesn't work if the ISP is using NAT at their level (like some ISPs do to make IPv4 addresses go a bit further).

          Anyway, it may not have to work very well. If there's a sudden rush of people being held to account for things they post, it might just lead to people generally behaving better on line.

          That, combined with very high fees of up to 50M€ for non-complying companies nearly guarantees abuse of this legislation to curb all sorts of private, political or commercial critics.

          So looks like using TOR will become mandatory for posting anything potentially controversial in Germany...

          I doubt it. Justifiable comment is always going to be dependable, so long as it is backed up with actual evidence.

          At least, we all need that to be the case, and German courts aren't noted for their irrationality. A proper court is never going to interfere with fair comment, subjective opinion, political differences of opinion, humour, etc.

          Such evidence can range from actually having the documents, VHS tape, cinema ticket, log book, photos, whatever. And it would be unwise of a complainant to take someone on in court if it turns out they really do have the documentation to prove a claim. Doubt is better than the absolute certainty having taken a critical to court and losing.

          Indeed, if people get used to the idea that they have to have documentary back up or some other unarguable justification before posting something like an accusations, embarrassing revelation etc, it might lead to fewer libel cases. Complainants would also know that the defending party would likely have taken care to prepare a strong collection of evidence to defend themselves.

          Anyway, it's a good thing that if someone is simply making some unjustified dross up about someone else they get to explain themselves.

          I do wonder though if there ought to be some guarantee of legal aid, to defend one's self in such cases. It would be very easy otherwise for someone rich to use their wealth to out-lawyer someone poor. The inquisitorial systems of justice are better for this, less so the UK, US, Common Law adversarial system.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: This will be interesting and maybe nasty

        "The only practical way of doing that is to get a credit card number and take some money from it, to establish the useful identity through the banking system."

        One problem: credit card fraud.

        1. bazza Silver badge

          Re: This will be interesting and maybe nasty

          @Doctor Syntax,

          One problem: credit card fraud.

          Another reason to check one's statements... Besides, the new system would make it easier to ID the fraudster!

      3. Tom Paine

        Re: This will be interesting and maybe nasty

        Taking CCNs from customers, even if they don't charge them, to verify identity - or any other method - would go down like a slurry-filled lead balloon with the social media providers, for obvious reasons. You can expect them to make that the very, very last resort. I imagine they'd try blocking access entirely from any country that tried to implement such a law, rather than comply (or just stop operating their business in that territory, in which case the whole thing's irrelevant.)

        1. bazza Silver badge

          Re: This will be interesting and maybe nasty

          @Tom Paine,

          Taking CCNs from customers, even if they don't charge them, to verify identity - or any other method - would go down like a slurry-filled lead balloon with the social media providers, for obvious reasons. You can expect them to make that the very, very last resort.

          Indeed. But it kinda shows how vacuous and frivolous the whole thing has become. These things really aren't Utilities (like water, telecoms etc).

          We used to have paid-for services (Compuserve), there's no reason why such a thing couldn't be profitable today. WhatsApp used to be paid-for. Many argue that it was far better when it wasn't free.

  4. bolac

    Greetings from Germany

    Fun fact: The person who is complaining is to be informed, but the one who is deleted does not even know the reason and has no court or something to complain about the deletion.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: Greetings from Germany

      Is that's what's written into the law?!

      Well, they're going to get that wrong sometimes, aren't they. €50million fine vs the ire of a deleted user... There's no contest, accounts are going to get deleted at the drop of a complaint email in their inbox.

    2. wolfetone
      Trollface

      Re: Greetings from Germany

      "The person who is complaining is to be informed, but the one who is deleted"

      Woah hang on, you mean if I complained about you you would be deleted?

      Is that legal?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Greetings from Germany

      Fun fact: The person who is complaining is to be informed, but the one who is deleted does not even know the reason and has no court or something to complain about the deletion.

      Deutschland über alles. I think we have heard that before!

      1. handleoclast
        Big Brother

        Re: Deutschland über alles. I think we have heard that before!

        "Deutschland über alles" doesn't mean what a lot of people take it to mean. It's not "Germany rules everybody" but more like "Think of Germany before anything else". Or, more idiomatically, and with a shift of country: "America first."

        Just sayin...

        1. bolac

          Re: Deutschland über alles. I think we have heard that before!

          No, it has a completely differnet meaning.

          "uber alles" is used for everything in German, like "for the world" in English.

          For example, if pizza is your favorite food, you would say "pizza for the world" in English and "Pizza über alles" in German. It just means "there is nothing better than pizza"- It has no connotation of ruling oder domination or anything. It also does not mean that you put pizza above something, it means that you find out that it is above something.

          1. Tom Paine

            Re: Deutschland über alles. I think we have heard that before!

            I suspect you meant "for the win", not "for the world"...?

            1. bolac

              Re: Deutschland über alles. I think we have heard that before!

              No. It has nothing to do with "America first".

              To stick to the pizza example: "Pizza über alles" means "I think pizza is better than everything else". It does NOT mean "I think we should put pizza above everything". It is just a observational statement, it has no connotation of "should be" or "want".

  5. JourneymanD

    Possibly incorrect translation

    Greetings, Registers

    It looks there's a mistake in the translation (Google Translation does bad job here, indeed).

    The line "Dazu zählen z.B. Beleidigung, üble Nachrede, Verleumdung, öffentliche Aufforderung zu Straftaten, Volksverhetzung und Bedrohung" is more likely translated as following:

    "These include, for instance, insults, libel, slander, public calls for crimes, rabble-housing and threats."

    Just decided to check every word, since "public prosecution" seems illogical here.

    1. bolac

      Re: Possibly incorrect translation

      It does not matter, those German terms are just as undefined political propaganda bullshit bingo as they are in English. They are seemingly using legally defined terms, but they are misusing them intentionally.

      For example "public call to commit crime" and "threatening" don't require new laws. They were illegal to begin with. Those things are illegal even in America, because you can grammatically distinguish an imperative "kill this guy" from a mere opinion statement "I wish this guy had a car accident".

      1. Toni the terrible Bronze badge

        Re: Possibly incorrect translation - Canterbury rules

        who will rid me of this meddling priest? was it an order or was it exasperation?

    2. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: Possibly incorrect translation

      I'd not seen the term "public prosecution" previously, and mentally equated it to public shaming or derision, both of which seem compatible with Volksverhetzung. "Rabble rousing" seems overly general.

      It's good we don't have something like that here in the US, as it would keep a few White House staffers busy full time on Facebook and Twitter sorting out the Trump references and getting the offensive ones taken down. On the other hand, it might divert their attention from other things they could be doing.

  6. Tom Paine

    Insults??

    “insults, libel, slander, public prosecutions, crimes, and threats.”

    Insults? INSULTS?! So posting "Merkel's policies are so bad, she must be a complete idiot" would get my account deleted?

    Interesting..

    I certainly can't imagine any unintended consequences arising from this, no sir... *doubtful look

    1. bolac

      Re: Insults??

      Insults have been illegal in Germany since always.

      https://dejure.org/gesetze/StGB/185.html

  7. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    ExpireDitious.de - my idea for a news site that deletes EVERY story after 23 hours. I will, so to speak, clean up.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why do US social media companies need a presence in other countries?

    Surely if they operated solely from the US, they could ignore other countries(different) rules with impunity.

    What do they need a physical presence for?

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. bazza Silver badge

      Re: Why do US social media companies need a presence in other countries?

      Surely if they operated solely from the US, they could ignore other countries(different) rules with impunity.

      What do they need a physical presence for?

      Good question. They could, but it's expensive.

      If they want to do a lot of business in a country, it's much more tax efficient to set up an office there. Ad revenue collected in the States from European customers would be taxed as profit in the States. Ad revenue collected in a European office isn't, and they can then play the Double Irish tax minimisation game.

      There's also the exchange rate problem... And there's also a trans Atlantic network bandwidth problem. And if there's ever a Great Firewall of Europe (might happen), they'd be on the wrong side.

      Not having a presence in China has led to Google, Facebook, etc. being wiped out there. There's 1billion+ customers not looking at ads served by Google. They're looking at ads served by Baidu.

      It'll be interesting to see what laws evolve, and what they sociak networks do in response. Their normal public statements on such matters are generally designed to please US customers' ears. They may find themselves having to choose between profit and principles. I suspect they'll choose the former whilst keeping as quiet as possible about the latter.

  9. one crazy media

    Completely Support

    In era, where social networks have become ANTI-SOCIAL NETWORKS; laws such as this is necessarhy.

    Freedom of speech does not give anyone any right to anti-social behavior or to incite violence.

    Social networks such as Face Book, Twitter, etc., gleen user data for target marketing so, identifying and deleting anti-social content should not be a significant problem.

  10. MacroRodent Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Getting sued as part of the job description...

    if the deadlines mentioned above aren't met the social network's designated complaints-handler could be fined up to five million Euros, while the network itself could cop a fine of 50 million Euros.

    Hard to picture anyone wanting that complaints handler job. Probably the only way to survive is to immediately take down anything complained about, which then causes its own problems.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: Getting sued as part of the job description...

      Hard to picture anyone wanting that complaints handler job.

      € 1 million a year, keep on top of it for 6 months to 1 year, I'd be happy with that!

  11. tom dial Silver badge

    As an alternative, they could deny new, and drop existing, German accounts. A few 50 million Euro fines would begin to eat into the profits, and it wouldn't take too many to turn Germany into a loss center worth shutting down.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Kinda happening anyway. Twitter is failing commercially. Facebook is profitable, dunno how. Google are trying to wring more cash out of YouTube ads, suggests they're losing there (especially since the boycotting started here in the UK and spread).

  12. silverfern Bronze badge

    As a translation of "Volksverhetzung", "sedition" would be closer to the mark.

  13. llaryllama

    So..

    Obviously the safest/cheapest/easiest path for networks is to take down anything complained about immediately without even bothering to check it. Since most of these networks are almost guaranteed to take the safest/cheapest/easiest path for all business decisions that's probably what's going to happen. And what happens when some pranksters decide to make automated complaints in the millions?

    If anyone doesn't see the problem or abuse potential then they need their head examining.

    I don't like to jump on the Hyperbolic Bandwagon but this does have that little bit of Stasi whiff about it. Germany already has ridiculously powerful laws to protect IP rights holders and other entities who don't really need protecting. If anything it needs less of these laws, not more of them.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021