As of January 1, Germany began to enforce its anti-hate speech and illegal content law (“NetzDG”), which was originally passed in mid-2017.  This law targets publishers and social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and YouTube, that have more than 2 million members or users.

The law, translated as the Network Enforcement Act requires “obviously illegal” material to be removed within a 24 hour time period after the site owner is notified of of the violation.  In cases where the situations are more blurred, there’s  seven-day time frame.  Fines for non-compliance could be up to 50 million euros, which equates to about $60 million.

Not only does the law encompass hate speech, but it extends to “fake news” and a range of other illegal content.  The reason for the delay in the enforcement of the law was to give social netwworks and others who are potentially impacted time to prepare to comply.

The reason why this law was passed back in 2017 was a reaction to fake news, Russian content manipulation, as well as other social media controversies of 2016 and early 2017 and frustration with self-policing efforts.  Other things included in the law are: racist content, xenophobic, right-wing nationalist content, content inciting terrorism and content spreading child pornography.

The law was criticized on a number of grounds, such as vagueness and as a potential threat to fake news.  It’s even been denounced by those who want a pan-European solution instead of isolated national efforts  Many also have concerns that the law turns social media sites into “opinion police.”

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