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Time's up: Grace period for Germany's internet hate speech law ends

Twitter, Facebook boot off far-right politician over racist tweet

By Rebecca Hill

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The grace period for tech firms failing to meet Germany's strict new hate speech law has ended.

The network enforcement act – Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz, or NetzDG if that doesn't roll off the tongue for you – was passed by the government back in June.

It gives companies with more than 2 million users just 24 hours to remove or block criminal content, or seven days for more complex issues.

Although it has been in force since October, the government gave firms three months to set up systems to deal with complaints, which includes an easy online way for German citizens to report content.

That period ended yesterday, meaning that from now on any criminal content – which might be threats of violence or hate speech – must be removed forthwith. Companies that fail to comply face fines of up to €50m.

Firms must also tell authorities how they are dealing with the requests, and are required to produce an annual report on how many posts they delete, and why.

According to Deutsche Welle, Facebook has set up a system that asks users to screenshot the offending post, while Google has created an online form to report content and Twitter has added an extra button to say the report is due to NetzDG.

And it seems platforms are taking the law seriously, as a member of the far-right Alternative for Germany party was blocked from Twitter and Facebook just hours after the law came into force.

Beatrix von Storch had her account frozen for 12 hours after describing Muslim men as "barbaric, gang-raping hordes" in response to the Cologne police force sending new year's wishes in Arabic, along with a series of other languages.

Von Storch's tweet, which was deleted when her account was reopened, said: "What the hell is happening in this country? Why is an official police site tweeting in Arabic? Do you think it is to appease the barbaric, gang-raping hordes of Muslim men?"

Reuters reported that German police have asked prosecutors in North Rhine-Westphalia to investigate the tweet. They will have to decide whether to do so or transfer it to authorities in Berlin, where Von Storch has her constituency. ®

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