Germany passed its Network Enforcement Act (Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz/ NetzDG), known also as the Facebook Act, which came into force in the country back in 2017, and aimed at regulating information shared on large social media regulation platforms.
Through this legislation, the country made an effort to curb the upsurge in hate speech comments, dissemination of false information and publicizing statements defamatory in nature, along with a long list of other criminal acts.
The Act till date receives mixed reviews, with some national governments and policy makers appreciating the novel approach to limiting the disastrous aftereffects of social media regulation.
Influence on criminal activities, while others, including large social media regulation corporations and human rights activists brand the law as restrictive towards socio-political rights and freedom of speech.
How Does the NetzDG Regulate Social Media Platforms?
German lawmakers have taken active steps towards restricting online bullying, discrimination, hate speech, and broadcast of dangerous, fake news on social media regulation platforms by enacting the Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG),
Which requires large social media regulation platforms with above 2 million users to actively regulate the information shared on their platforms and to delete and report all illegal activities and comments to the German Authorities.
The platforms are required to remove all “clearly illegal” content within 24 hours, and other illegal content within a week’s time, or face a penalty of up to 50 million Euros. The illegal acts, under the enactment, include:
- Distribution unconstitutional organizations’ propaganda material
- Making use of symbols of unconstitutional organizations
- Endangering the state through preparation of serious violent offence
- Encouraging others in the commission of a serious violent offence endangering the state
- Forgery of a treasonous nature
- Incitement of the public to commit a crime
- Creation of a criminal or terrorist organization
- Disturbance of public peace by threatening to commit a crime
- Provocation of the general public
- Portrayal of violence
- Appreciating and rewarding some criminal offenses
- Passing defamatory statements with regards to religions, religious faiths and ideological communities
- Broadcasting, obtaining and having in possession or accessing child pornography
- Hateful gossip
- Abuses and insults
- Besmirching memory of the dead
- Violation of a person’s privacy by taking their photographs or other images
- Forging any data which holds probative value
- Threatening to commit a serious criminal activity or offence
What Are the Criticisms Faced by the NetzDG?
The law is viewed by many human rights groups as too restrictive and in violation of the freedoms of speech, expression and press, as it is essentially a right of every person to make known their views without any hinderances.
The law is considered to be a major step-back in the public’s right to personal opinion without interference from a public authority.
Apart from the rights restrictions, the Act is also criticized for a flawed legal and contextual framework. At a structural level, the legislation is said to be vague, unreasonable and imbalanced in the exorbitant fines imposed on social media regulation platforms for inadequate action.
It is fundamentally defective, as it requires social media regulation companies to turn into fanatics, desperately censoring data to avoid any hefty fines which could be levied on them for insufficient reporting.
The law is also criticized for failing to create an appropriate structure for judicial remedy where rights of a person are violated by a company.
Companies are often unable to establish accurately if a comment falls within the illegal acts mentioned under the Act, or whether the comment is merely a case of freedom of expression, causing much grievances for the posters.
Legal Battles Against the NetzDG
Suits have been filed against the NetzDG in Cologne Administrative Court by big techs such as Google, Twitter, Meta and Tik Tok.
Hefty fines have been levied against these platforms in previous years for under-reporting criminal and illegal activities, whereas the platforms have openly criticized the law for lacking clarity in its determining criteria and the fines being largely disproportionate and excessive.
Till the case is decided by the Cologne Administrative Court, German Authorities have allowed Meta and Google the leeway of not having to continue with reporting till a decision has been passed.
As of now, it seems that the social media regulation platforms have been favored by the court, as the NetzG seems to violate the country of origin principle under the Directive of Electronic Commerce.
This means that the laws applicable to an online service provider are of the country in which the service provider has been created.
Positive Reception of the NetzDG
Though large social media regulation corporations and online service providers have criticized the law, national governments seem to appreciate the bold steps taken by the German legislature in order to tackle a fast-increasing problem across the globe.
Fake news, hate speech, greater criminal and terrorist activity threats are a major concern for most nations. Outside of the European Union, Singapore, the Philippines and Russia have openly supported the German legislation on social media regulation.
Singapore has directly cited the NetzDG in its attempt to tackle dissemination of fake news online. Philippines’ Act Penalizing the Malicious Distribution of False
News and Other Related Violations referred to the NetzDG as well while it was being presented in Congress. Similarly, Russia has followed the NetzDG model in its attempt of combating online illegal content.
Other countries, such as Venezuela, Kenya, United Kingdom, and many within the EU too, such as France, are moving towards stricter policies for online content regulation.
The EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA) seems to be following the blueprint of the NetzDG, and provides strict online social media regulation content regulation. It seems that whether big techs like it or not, stricter regulations and necessary compliances are coming their way as the world deals with the after-effects of social media regulation.
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