Dubbed the “Facebook law,” Germany’s Network Enforcement Act is meant to incite social media networks to fast track offensive content removal within 24 hours or face fines up to 50 million pounds (roughly $57 million in the U.S.). If the networks don’t meet the deadline, they are fined a fee of up to five million pounds.
In addition to the 24-hour deadline for content removal, social networks are now obligated under the network law to submit semiannual reports on what content they receive and what they have removed. Germany’s definition of offensive content they want removed on the social networks includes hate speech, harassment, defamation, and speech that incites violence.
And while this is not the first attempt at regulating online speech, in light of the many surfacing allegations of sexual harassment, it’s important to note that said harassment doesn’t just exist in the physical world for women – it’s also online.
A Pew Research study found that 40 percent of adults on the internet experienced online harassment, with women receiving severe forms of it. 26 percent of young women were reported as having been stalked online and 25 percent of them were the target of online sexual harassment.
In 2015, female journalist Linda Pelkonen covered a case on an international news site about a child being sexually assaulted. Afterward, Pelkonen received rape and death threats, and a reader published her personal phone number in an anti-immigration website’s comment section.
In a survey conducted by the International Women’s Media Foundation, over 25 percent of written threats took place online.
The fact of the matter is that a more efficient comment and post filter is needed for these social network giants.
Some versions of this exist, like with how YouTube will regulate certain videos based on keywords, and how users can report offensive comments as spam or delete them altogether. Twitter users can block people they don’t like, and Facebook already has an algorithm actively trying to serve as a filter for offensive content – users on the website can also report posts they feel are offensive, which Facebook representatives then review to make final calls.
But a more efficient filtering system is needed, as a lot of offensive content still manages to make its way through. Facebook representatives stated that a better filter is the goal, but the reality is that it’s difficult because some words could be defamatory in some countries while meaning something else in other countries.
While the German government believes the law will finally crack down on online harassment and offensive speech, some critics state that this type of government oversight infringes upon basic internet freedoms by being overbearingly restrictive.
“We believe the best solutions will be found when government, civil society and industry work together,” a Facebook representative told The Verge. “This law as it stands now will not improve efforts to tackle this important societal problem.”
However, German Justice Minister Heiko Maas stated he believes the hefty fines against the social media networks will bring the necessary consequences so the networks can finally take action against offensive speech.
“Experience has shown that, without political pressure, the large platform operators will not fulfill their obligations, and this law is therefore imperative,” Maas says. “Freedom of expression ends where criminal law begins.”
It’s still unclear if Germany’s enforcement act will lower the percentage of online harassment, or if women will ever be safe from all forms of it – that’s the tricky part about the internet. It’s a marketplace of ideas and inputs, some good and some bad. Filtering systems have a long way to go to make it a safer place to be a part of.
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