Germany’s NetzDG: A key test for combatting online hate

Thursday, 22 November 2018
CEPS Research Reports
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Authors: William Echikson and Olivia Knodt

Germany’s Network Enforcement Act, or NetzDG law represents a key test for combatting hate speech on the internet. Under the law, which came into effect on January 1, 2018, online platforms face fines of up to €50 million for systemic failure to delete illegal content. Supporters see the legislation as a necessary and efficient response to the threat of online hatred and extremism. Critics view it as an attempt to privatise a new ‘draconian’ censorship regime, forcing social media platforms to respond to this new painful liability with unnecessary takedowns.

This study shows that the reality is in between these extremes. NetzDG has not provoked mass requests for takedowns. Nor has it forced internet platforms to adopt a ‘take down, ask later’ approach. At the same time, it remains uncertain whether NetzDG has achieved significant results in reaching its stated goal of preventing hate speech.

This paper begins by explaining the background that led to the development and passage of NetzDG. It examines the reaction to the law by civil society, platforms and the government. It concludes with suggestions, for platforms, civil society and the authorities, on ways to improve the law to be effective in the fight against online hate while keeping the internet open and free.

CEPS acknowledges the Counter Extremism Project’s support for this research. The study was conducted in complete independence. It is based on interviews with regulators, company representatives, and civil society activists. The authors take full responsibility for its findings.