Internet Troll

Is Germany’s Battle Over Hate Speech Going Too Far?

By Stephen Fuchs on Email @StephenWFuchs

We have reported on the German government’s war against social media giants Facebook, Twitter and Google many times over the last year as the country tries to rid the popular sites of any signs of hate speech. While the companies have made attempts to appease government officials with stricter enforcement, each move is said to still not be enough. The question is: is Germany taking the fight too far?

“I’ve run out of patience”

Volker Kauder, a member of the CDU, spoke with Der Spiegel this week to say “the time for roundtables is over. I’ve run out of patience,” and argues that Facebook, Twitter and Google have failed and should pay 50,000 euro ($54,865) fines for not providing a strict level of censorship.

Kauder went on to relate the situation to packs of cigarettes, which are required to display lethal warnings on the packaging. “Why don’t we ask these [ social media ] providers to carry a warning on their websites, saying: ‘Anyone who communicates here must expect insulting remarks,'” Kauder stated.

“Anyone who communicates here must expect insulting remarks”

All major social media sites do provide tools to report hate speech offenders, but Kauder isn’t the only one to argue that the tool is ineffective.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas made a statement that only 46 percent of the comments were erased by Facebook, while a mere one percent were taken care of by Twitter.

Maas’ solution is not much different from Kauder’s, as he told Handelsblatt that the companies should face legal consequences.

Munich Hate Speech Streets

Warning: now entering personal opinion:

I think we could all agree that there is little good to come from hateful remarks, even though we are all guilty of it to some degree, whether it’s centered around politics, religion, an ex — you get the point — but who is to decide which comment is more hateful than the other?

“This is just some troll on the internet”

It is a tough situation to address, and while I would agree that some level of moderation on social media sites is okay, many of us spend way too much time and energy in fighting with our words instead of stepping back and saying: “This is just some troll on the internet”.

Do I think Germany is out of line to expect a level of cooperation to remove highly offensive posts once reported? No, not entirely. Where I begin to disagree though comes when any government starts policing excessively to the point where our outlets for expression become restricted by a set of rules that make any level of opinion a bannable offense.

How long until Germany pushes Facebook to delete any negative comments or opinions about a certain political party or candidate?

Negative remarks about refugees are deemed hate speech in Germany, but what about the negative remarks about Merkel’s refugee policies? Should we expect Facebook or Twitter to delete those immediately as well?

We live in a world that is colorful, not black and white

Maybe the government would be better off addressing the real issues that lead to the divisiveness, instead of playing the “you hurt my feelings” game online.

Yes, some of the comments we find on social media can dig deep into our emotions, but we can choose to handle the situation in other ways. This is not to say that there are serious cases of cyberbullying that can go too far, but that goes beyond the common hate speech triggers the government is obsessing over.

We live in a world that is colorful, not black and white. We live in a world where people have fought for their freedom of expression, not repression. Now go outside and take a deep breath, visit a friend, and have a genuine face-to-face conversation. The world will be okay.

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Sources: DWDer Spiegel

Photos: Fixers [Flickr]Agastya Alfath [Flickr]

Stephen Fuchs
Stephen founded German Pulse and LGBT Germany out of a passion to introduce Americans to a Germany that goes beyond beer and polka (although with enough beer he has been known to polka it up a bit). He's a coffee addict, lover of wine and good times, a hit in the kitchen and editor of TV commercials. You can follow him on Twitter (@StephenWFuchs) to find out a lot more.
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