German-Style Internet Censorship Catches On Around the World
Even as the world wrestles with a pandemic and overbearing public health measures, some legislative bodies are taking the opportunity to tighten the screws on speech they don’t like. Several bills have passed, others are pending, and one was gutted by court review, but all represent new fronts in government efforts to impose censorship.
For free speech advocates, the luckiest break might have been the fate of a law passed by the French National Assembly in May. While existing requirements give companies 24 hours to take down content alleged by the government to glorify terrorist activity or to constitute child pornography, the new law would have changed that to one hour. In addition, online publishers would have been allowed a day to remove so-called “hate speech.”
“The same 24-hour obligation would have applied to content reported for violation of a law that criminalizes speech that promotes, glorifies, or engages in justification of sexual violence, war crimes, crimes against humanity, enslavement, or collaboration with the enemy; a law that criminalizes sexual harassment; and a law that bans pornography where it could be seen by a minor—among others,” reports Jacob Schulz at Lawfare. “The law did not carve out any exceptions; the 24-hour rule would have applied even in the case of technical difficulties or temporary surge in notifications.”
In June, France’s Constitutional Court struck down the vast majority of the law as an unconstitutional threat to freedom of expression. That’s really the only good news to report so far.
France’s blocked hate-speech law was inspired by Germany’s notorious NetzDG law, which makes online platforms liable for illegal content.
“Germany’s Network Enforcement Law, or NetzDG … requires social media companies to block or remove content that violates one of twenty restrictions on hate and defamatory speech in the German Criminal Code,” Diana Lee wrote for Yale Law School’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic. “In effect, the NetzDG conscripts social media companies into governmental service as content regulators,” with millions of euros in fines hanging over their heads if they guess wrong.
That model of delegated censorship has proven to be as infectious as a viral outbreak, taking hold in over a dozen other countries.
“This raises the question of whether Europe’s most influential democracy has contributed to the further erosion of global Internet freedom by developing and legitimizing a prototype of online censorship by proxy that can readily be a
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