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For The Second Time In A Week, German Hate Speech Laws Results In Deletion Of Innocent Speech


It's going to be a fun few months for German government officials as they run from one embarrassing fire to the next, hoping to keep their newly-minted "hate speech" law from being scrapped for sheer ineptitude.

The law went live January 1st, promising hefty fines for social media companies if they don't remove poorly-defined "hate speech" fast enough. This has resulted in exactly the sort of side effects the law's critics promised. The only remarkable thing is how fast the side effects have presented themselves.

Within 72 hours of the law's debut, a satirical post mocking a German's politician's bigoted words was deleted by Twitter in an apparently proactive move. The 24-hour window for content removal is backed by €50m fines for each violation. Given the amount of money on the line, it's no surprise social media companies are trying to stay ahead of Germany's government when it comes to regulating speech. It's also no surprise Twitter, et al are relying heavily on users to help narrow down which questionable posts it should be looking at.

You can already see where this is headed. For the second time in less than a week, Twitter has pulled the trigger on an innocent tweet. And, again, the entity whose tweet has been deleted is big enough to attract the attention of German lawmakers.

Germany signalled on Monday it was open to amending a controversial law combatting online hate speech as the justice minister fell victim to the rules he himself championed.

The move came after Twitter deleted a post by Heiko Maas dating back to 2010 before he was appointed justice minister, in which he called a fellow politician "an idiot".

The post was deleted after Twitter received several complaints, fuelling a simmering row over the new regulation which critics say stifle freedom of speech.

Proponents of laws targeting speech tend to believe the law will operate in a pristine vacuum where only the purest of intentions will be honored. Anyone operating outside of this mindset knows exactly how speech-targeting laws work in real life: exactly like this, where an internet dogpile resulted in the deletion of a tweet that didn't even meet the expansive definitions of hate speech handed down by the German government.

As a result of multiple, high-profile false positives, many German politicians are now complaining about the law and demanding it be altered or struck down. But even with political sentiment swiftly turning against the just-enacted law, the German government will apparently take a wait-and-see approach to touching up the law.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said an evaluation would be carried out within six months to examine how well the new law was working.

The way things are going, it's doubtful the law will make it six weeks before being clawed back for a rewrite.


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