Social media abroad: Who’s responsible for hate speech?


  • German lawmakers passed The Network Enforcement Act, holding Facebook, Twitter, and other social media companies liable for failing to remove hate speech.
  • Social media networks could face fines up to $57 million for failing to remove incendiary language within 24 hours, with additional fines to follow if content is not removed.
  • The law defines illegal content as hate speech, defamation, and incitements to violence.


Recent elections in Germany have shined a spotlight on a right-wing, populist, anti-immigrant faction called the Alternative for Germany (AfD). The AfD argues that the euro has failed and is threatening the future of the European Union. These sentiments can be most readily felt on social media platforms; therefore, the law could be viewed as an effort to crack down on the growing distrust of refugees entering the country.

  • PRO GOVERNMENT – “Protect the people”

    • Common sense:   Justice Minister Heiko Maas and other supporters of the bill argue that it’s necessary to decrease the spread of hate speech, which is strictly regulated in Germany
    • Exception to expression:   Freedom of expression ends when criminal activity begins.
    • Unequal protection:   ProPublica published documents regarding Facebook’s hate speech algorithm, which showed that between female drivers, black children and white men, white men were the ones protected from hate speech.
  • PRO SOCIAL MEDIA – “Free speech for all”

    • Expression violation:   Digital groups and human rights groups have argued that the law limits an individual’s freedom of expression.
    • Censorship & control:   Opponents argue that the law grants social media platforms too much freedom to designate what content violates the law. The amount of freedom these companies may have could lead to privatized and unpredictable censorship.
    • Cultural differences:   Some words may be considered defamatory in some cultures but not others (i.e., ‘Fag’ in Britain could refer to a cigarette).


  • The law will go into effect in October 2017.
  • Every six months companies have to publicly report the number of complaints they’ve received and detail how they’ve handled them.
  • Earlier in June, German police raided 36 homes over social media posts that allegedly contained hateful content, following a similar operation that targeted 60 people in 2016.
  • Facebook and Google in the U.S. have also taken steps to halt the spread of extremist messaging online and to prevent “fake news” from circulating.


  • Germany struck a similar deal with the social media companies in 2015, but a 2017 report commissioned by the Justice Ministry found that the companies failed to meet their commitments.
  • Will A.I. be capable of detecting and removing hate speech or will this mean the companies have to hire more people?
  • What is the specific language of the law? Are there more specifics to what is defined as “illegal”?