UN Human Rights Committee criticizes German NetzDG for letting social media platforms police online

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A UN human rights committee examining the status of civil and political rights in Germany has taken on the National Network Enforcement Act, or NetzDG, criticizing the hate speech law in a recent report for using social media companies to carry out government censorship, without any court rulings. monitoring of content removal.

The United Nations National Human Rights Committee, which oversees the implementation of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), has expressed concern, as we and others, about the that regulations force tech companies to behave like Internet police with the power to decide what free speech is and what hate speech is. NetzDG demands that major platforms remove content that appears “patently illegal” within 24 hours of being alerted, which will likely result in the removal of lawful speech as platforms sin on the censorship side to avoid penalties. The lack of judicial review of the removal of content was found to be particularly alarming, as it limits “access to a remedy in cases where the nature of the content is contested”.

“The Committee is concerned that these provisions and their application could have a deterrent effect on online expression ”, according to one Report of the Human Rights Committee of 11 November over Germany. The report constitutes the committee’s concluding observations on its independent assessment of Germany’s compliance with its human rights obligations under the ICCPR treaty.

It is important that the United Nations body sounds the alarm bells about NetzDG. We have seen other countries, including those under authoritarian rule, take inspiration from the settlement, including Turkey. A recent study reports that at least thirteen countries, including Venezuela, Australia, Russia, India, Kenya, the Philippines and Malaysia, have proposed or enacted laws based on NetzDG’s regulatory structure since its inception. entered into force, with regulations in many cases taking a more intrusive and censorious form.

To quote jailed Egyptian technologist Alaa Abd El Fattah, “a setback for human rights in a place where democracy has deep roots will certainly be used as an excuse for even worse violations in societies where rights are more fragile.”

The proliferation of copycat laws is worrisome not only because of what it means for free speech around the world, but also because NetzDG doesn’t even work to fight online abuse and hate speech in Germany. Harassment and abuse by far-right groups targeting female candidates ahead of the German election has shown how ineffective regulation is in eliminating toxic content and disinformation. At the same time, the existence of the law and its many imitations make companies less incentive to work to protect legal voices in the face of government demands.

And in general, the holding companies responsible for the speech of the users they host have a chilling effect on the freedom of expression that is of concern to the United Nations body. With the threat of sanctions and closures hanging over them, businesses will be inclined to remove too much content, sweeping away legitimate rhetoric and silencing voices. Even though massive platforms like Facebook and YouTube can afford to pay the penalties imposed, many other companies cannot and the threat of costly liability will discourage new companies from entering the market. As a result, internet users have less choice and the big tech platforms get more monopoly power.

The United Nations Committee recommended that Germany take action to prevent the deterrent effects NetzDG already has on online expression. Germany must ensure that any restriction on online expression under NetzDG meets the requirements of Article 19 (3) of the ICCPR. This means that the restrictions provided by law must be proportional and necessary to respect the rights or reputation of others; or for the protection of national security or public order, or public health or morals. In addition, the Committee recommended that Germany consider reviewing NetzDG “to ensure judicial review and access to remedies in cases where the nature of the online content is contested”.

Germany should adopt these recommendations as a first step in protecting freedom of expression within its borders. The Germans deserve it. We will wait.


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