Alexander Ritzmann, The Program on Extremism at George
Washington University. This paper, part of the Legal Perspectives on Tech Series, was commissioned in
conjunction with the Congressional Counterterrorism Caucus.
Over the course of 2015 and 2016, Germany had accepted around one million refugees, most from the Middle East. A right-wing anti-migrant backlash ensued, leading to a dramatic increase of crimes often committed by Germans who had no prior affiliation with extremist right-wing groups. On social media, hate speech proliferated, targeting both refugees and government officials who were deemed responsible for Germany’s open immigration policy. At the same time, the online propaganda and recruitment efforts of the so called “Islamic State” (IS) were at their peak and several IS-claimed terrorist attacks were committed within the European Union and Germany.
In 2016 and 2017, the German federal government initiated an investigation into online activities that violated Article 130 (incitement to hatred and Holocaust denial) and Article 86a (use of symbols from unconstitutional organizations) of the penal code, and violations against the Youth Protection Act. The organization mandated with the investigation reported 200 pieces of content per tested social media company (SMC).
Facebook removed 39%, YouTube 90% and Twitter 1%. Looking solely at content
removed within 24 hours of being flagged, the rates fell to 31% for Facebook, 82% for YouTube and 0% for Twitter.
Realizing that social media failed their own community standards and did not police their networks effectively in respect to illegal activities, Germany’s Network Enforcement Act, or NetzDG law, was introduced on May 16, 2017 and passed several weeks later. The short period for deliberation in the Bundestag was criticized heavily.
Federal elections were held in September that year so it appeared that for the governing coalition of the Christian Democrats (CDU) and Social Democrats (SPD), speed was more relevant than deliberation. The law was passed virtually unanimously among the CDU and SPD. The Free Democrats (FDP) and the party “The Left” voted against, the Greens abstained.