For three years now, Facebook and other networks have been subject to stricter deletion requirements. Critics’ fears have not yet materialized.
Unfortunately, hate postings cannot be removed that easily Photo: imagebroker / imago
FREIBURG taz | Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) is satisfied. “We see significant improvements in the way social networks deal with user complaints about criminal content.” On Wednesday, Lambrecht presented the evaluation of the NetzDG passed in 2017, which stipulates that hate postings should be deleted quickly. There is also no evidence of “over-blocking”, that is, for the systematic deletion of controversial but legitimate content, said the minister.
Social networks like Facebook have been obliged since 2007 to “immediately” delete criminal content after being notified. In practice, however, user complaints were largely ignored, as arguments and conflicts are good for the business of the mostly advertising-financed networks.
In 2017, the Bundestag therefore passed the NetzDG (Act to Improve Legal Enforcement in Social Networks), which obliges social media to delete criminal hate postings in obvious cases within 24 hours. If efficient complaint management is not introduced, fines of up to 50 million euros have been threatened since then.
At the time, there were violent protests against the law, including from journalists’ associations. They feared that, for fear of fines, the networks would in future delete almost automatically every controversial statement that someone complains about. This over-blocking would lead to a massive restriction of freedom of expression on the Internet, so the concern.
No fines so far
In order to appease the critics, the Bundestag decided to evaluate the NetzDG after three years. The 49-page evaluation report of the federal government is now available, which is essentially based on a 160-page report by the Berlin law professor Martin Eifert.
The ministry then found that complaint management had improved significantly. As far as postings were deleted, this was done in 83 percent of the cases within 24 hours.
According to the evaluation report, there are no indications of the systematic deletion of postings that are covered by the freedom of expression. The overviews of the networks show that on average less than twenty percent of the complaints led to a deletion. There can be no question of overly cautious “waving through” the complaints. Insofar as in individual cases courts complained about an unjustified deletion, these were cases in which the networks assumed a violation of their internal standards.
The alleged Damocles sword of the million dollar fines was not used either. There were 1352 complaints about postings at the Federal Office of Justice that were not deleted despite a notice. However, in no single case has the Federal Office assumed a systemic failure of the notification management of the networks and therefore did not impose a single corresponding fine.
Aggravation in prospect
Justice Minister Lambrecht wants to continue to take the risk of overblocking seriously and therefore introduce a “counter-presentation procedure”. If networks delete a posting as unlawful, but the author considers it legal, he should be able to ask the respective network to review it – before filing a legal action (with a risk of costs).
Lambrecht also rated the obligation introduced by the NetzDG to create semi-annual transparency reports on the handling of complaints as a success. So far there have been reports from Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Google+, Soundcloud, Jodel, Instagram, Reddit and Tiktok. While Facebook only lists a few thousand NetzDG complaints per year, there are a few hundred thousand on Youtube and Twitter.
The reason for this glaring gap is that Facebook pretty much hid the NetzDG reporting channel so that user complaints were predominantly directed to the internal flagging process. However, German law does not apply there, but the internal community standards of Facebook. The Federal Office of Justice therefore imposed a fine of two million euros on Facebook in the summer of 2019.
Independent of the evaluation, the Bundestag decided in June to tighten the NetzDG considerably. The network operators are soon obliged not only to delete reported criminal postings, but also to report them to the Federal Criminal Police Office in order to ensure that the agitators are prosecuted. The reporting requirement is expected to come into force in August 2021.
The new “counter-presentation procedure” is then expected to be resolved in a further law at the end of this year.