Controversy over NetzDG law continues with tech companies beginning to censor social media accounts


The Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG) approved in October 2017, began to take effect in early 2018 with an immmediate impact on some high-profile cases involving political leaders. 

NetzDG has been criticised by a number of institutions, NGOs, associations and the scientific service of the Bundestag. As reported previously on the Monitor, the law aims to combat harmful speech and verbal attacks in online communications. Those opposed to the law are concerned, however, over the limitations it may put on freedom of expression, which is a constitutional right in Germany. An overarching concern, as reported in The Guardian, is that the law reportedly "place[s] censorship decisions that require legal training at the whim of technology companies". Tech companies for the most part are acting on and complying with the new law to the extent possible, as failure to shut down or suspend social media accounts propagating hate speech can lead to hefty fines. However, the law may very well backfire in its purpose, as reported in Politico, citing Bernhard Rohleder, chief executive of Bitkom, a German trade body, who claims that the new legal provisions “put companies under tremendous time pressure when examining reported content. The high fines reinforce this pressure. This will inevitably lead to the deletion of permitted content”.

In a recent case wherein the NetzDG law was applied, two members of Alternative for Germany Party (AfD), were temporarily suspended from accessing and using their social media accounts, in particular Twitter, after posting derogatory and inflammatory comments on social media regarding migrants and minorities.