05-Apr-2017 Bitkom warns against rush ahead of elections in the fight against hate speech on the internet.

  • Cabinet approves draft act against hate crimes on the web
  • Regulations not only affect some US networks but numerous communication platforms
  • Bitkom criticises search for an easy solution and warns about restrictions of fundamental rights on the web through “deletion on call”

Berlin, 05 April 2017 – The digital association Bitkom warns, on the occasion of today’s federal cabinet debate of the draft act on law enforcement in social networks (network enforcement law), against a rushed passing of a poorly drafted law motivated by election campaign tactics, whilst itis already clear that it will do more harm than good. “The fight against the distribution of illegal content and hate speech in social networks is too important. We can’t afford a hasted decision here. On the one hand, it must be ensured that these offences on the internet are strictly prosecuted and sanctioned. On the other hand, it is about fundamental rights, like the freedom of speech, that need to be protected without ifs or buts. “, said Bitkom CEO Dr. Bernhard Rohleder. “The German government got on the wrong track with the draft act. There are no fast and simple solutions against hate speech on the internet. We need to dismiss the hope of a simple solution. The fight against hate speech demands a high perseverance. Above all, authorities need the appropriate human resources to carry out their duties in social networks the same way they do on the roads.” The federal cabinet adopted the draft only a few days after the consultation deadline for associations, experts and NGOs expired., Already a week before, the draft act was notified to the EU.

Bitkom points out that the draft act shows a considerable number of discrepancies and technical errors and is unanimously criticised by companies, associations, internet activists and reputable lawyers, because it cannot appropriately counter the existing problem of hate speech on the internet. Rohleder: “Todays revisions in the federal cabinet draft compared to the ministry’s notified draft cannot overcome the severe concerns against the law. Our dismay on the continued rush is increasing, especially since the problem has been known for more than ten years. “ In future, for instance, private companies need to make decisions within a few hours or days, which actually require a comprehensive weighing of fundamental rights. Rohleder: “Whether a statement is considered an insult, defamation or another statement punishable under criminal law can’t be assessed, with a few exceptions, in a short time and sometimes even not conclusively without a judicial process. The draft act at hand leads to a deletion on call.”

The weaknesses of the draft act are even more worrisome, since, different than in public discussions depicted, not only two or three large social networks from the US will be regulated but practically all online communities, established rating platforms of great benefit to consumers and even communication services like messengers or e-mail can be affected. “In principle, any online communication can be effected by the law. This includes large gaming platforms where users also communicate in forums or chats, as well as e-mail communication”, said Rohleder. “Considering the short time limits and the threat of high penalties, in cases of doubt providers will be forced to delete statements as a precautionary measure. That would have significant implications for the freedom of speech online.”

Within the prescribed time limits it will be, for instance, not possible to conduct a hearing of those affected before the deletion. Due process is not ensured. Rohleder: “Instead of shifting sovereign tasks to private companies the state needs to make a bigger effort, besides the existing measures of the companies against illegal content on the web.” Bitkom has proposed to set up dedicated teams in the competent authorities which ensure that illegal statements online will have consequences as well. This includes, on the one hand, police officers trained in online matters that show presence in social networks, and on the other, digital street workers. With only a few hundred additional positions nationwide we can already achieve a lot. “The topic of hate speech on the internet has existed for at least ten years. We need to reinforce our efforts to reach out to people online and to convince them”, said Rohleder. “To push hate speech out of social networks where they are visible into new dark corners of the web is too short-sighted.”

Bitkom further criticises that Germany, in an area harmonised by European law, embarks on a national special path in Europe with the present draft act, which was already notified to the EU as the version of the ministry’s draft. “We need more harmonisation in Europe, not solo efforts”, said Rohleder. “It’s quite possible that this law infringes EU law. The European Commission will certainly assess this thoroughly with a view to the envisaged Digital Single Market”.

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Andreas Streim

Pressesprecher E-Mail: a.streim@bitkom.org Tel.: +49 30 27576-112 Bitkom e.V.
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Marie-Teresa Weber

Bereichsleiterin Verbraucherrecht & Medienpolitik Bitkom e.V.

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Contact Picture

Andreas Streim

Pressesprecher E-Mail: a.streim@bitkom.org Tel.: +49 30 27576-112 Bitkom e.V.
Contact Picture

Marie-Teresa Weber

Bereichsleiterin Verbraucherrecht & Medienpolitik Bitkom e.V.