On April 5, 2017, the federal government adopted the Act to improve legal enforcement in social networks (Network Enforcement Act), which was advanced by the Federal Minister of Justice, Heiko Maas.
The law intends to impose heavier obligations on social network operators to guarantee that hate speech and punishable false news are curbed and prosecuted. To this end, the bill provides for operators to introduce an efficient complaint management system and a reporting duty. Additionally, it requires the designation of an authorized agent in Germany and provides for hefty fines in case of violations.
In a joint “Declaration for the Freedom of Speech,” the signatories, consisting of numerous associations, journalists, network activists and legal experts, warned that this law could have “catastrophic consequences on the freedom of speech”:
Curbing unlawful content should not cause individual freedom of speech and the general freedom of information to suffer. The Alliance for the Freedom of Speech warns that, for content that does not fall into a black and white area, social network operators might be prompted to delete or block content in cases of doubt, because of the threat of fines ranging in millions of euros associated with response times that are too short. The fear of a developing “culture of deletion” is real, which might also affect a lot of lawful content.
It remains to be seen what influence the declaration will have on both the social discussion and the subsequent political discussion in Parliament.