The German government’s demand that social media giants Google, Facebook and Twitter remove what it calls anti-migrant ‘hate speech’ is having its first real test in the wake of the sickening sex attacks in Cologne over New Year’s Eve.
Breitbart London first brought news of the attacks to the English speaking world and sparked a global tide of outrage in the process.
Anyone in Germany appalled by the scenes we described, however, will find it difficult to express their disgust online because it might be branded as hate speech by the Berlin political class that shows more concern for the reaction from Germans than for the threat to social order from the migrants themselves.
In a deal reached last December, major social media sites said they would work to delete any German anti-migrant sentiments distributed on their networks within 24 hours after a removal request has been made.
The outlets agreed to apply domestic laws, rather than their own corporate policies, to reviews of posts and already users in Germany are expressing disgust at the policy which came straight from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office.
Last September, Ms Merkel was overheard confronting Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg over the issue, with Mr Zuckerberg replying “we need to do some work” to remove offensive posts, Wired reported. He agreed to collude with the German leader on the issue.
As Breitbart News has reported, moderators on the link-sharing and discussion site Reddit have already deleted dozens of links and comments about immigrant gang violence after the Cologne sexual assaults in an apparent attempt to clamp down on “vileness.”
The deletions and restrictions have not gone unnoticed.
“It’s not politically correct to say anything against migrants. We don’t have freedom of opinion anymore. #Cologne,” Tweeted a German user from Hanover. See his Tweet below.
— Pulvermann (@ProfUwe) January 5, 2016
Stefan Körner, chairman of Germany’s liberal Pirate Party, agrees. He argues that democracies “must be able to bear” a measure of xenophobia. According to the Washington Post he condemned the government’s deal with social media outlets saying that “surely it will lead to too many rather than too few comments being blocked. This is creeping censorship, and we definitely don’t want that.”
These protests may be a case of too little, too late because free speech will not be so free in Germany in just six months time.
By mid-2016, Google, Facebook and Twitter will have to provide user-friendly mechanisms for the submission of removal requests. They will enforce their terms and conditions by reviewing specific reports of hateful content and incitement to violence under both their community guidelines, and German law, particularly Section 130 of the German criminal code.
When a removal request is received, dedicated teams at the companies have to review it. Most content must be reviewed within 24 hours and removed, if necessary.
The companies will be given access to German-speaking experts, if required, and they must have legal specialists on tap to provide any required legal analysis.
If that combined weight of the German government and social media platforms work together as they threaten, what we have seen and heard from Cologne will scarcely be commented on again inside Germany itself.
Which it appears is just the way Angela Merkel wants it.