On January 1, a new German law aimed at reining in social media came into force.
Called the Network Enforcement Act, or “NetzDG”, social media companies from Facebook and Twitter, to YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat will be legally obliged to remove illegal content from their sites. They will have a limited amount of time to do so. If they fail to act, they will face fines of up to €50 million.
The law is interesting for several reasons.
It puts the onus on the social media giants, not the courts, to decide what is illegal content. In Germany that might not be too difficult to work out. Because of the Holocaust, since 1945 the country has one of the world’s toughest laws related to hate speech. Denial of the Holocaust or hatred against minorities can carry prison sentences. If the law relied on the courts, as some German legislators have called for because they don’t believe or want the internet platforms to decide what is hate content, the chances are that complaints would be caught up in the long administrative queues and processes.
Another consequence of the law is that it is an attempt by Germany to introduce some kind of regulatory system for social media.
Social media has for far too long been outside the traditional controls or supervision of news gathering. So if the print media, radio, and television are subject to strict regulations and standards with regard to accuracy and accountability, then why can’t social media be regulated as well?