Germany is putting an end to hate speech on the Internet

The German government makes a deal with Facebook, Twitter and Google to remove hate speech within 24 hours of it being reported. Could this change the Internet as we know it?

Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
2 min read

The German government is recruiting Facebook, Google and Twitter to help put an end to online hate speech, which Germany defines as inciting violent or harmful action.

It's said there's always someone doing something bad on the Internet. Now, Germany is doing something about it.

The European nation reached an agreement with Facebook, Twitter and Google to remove hate speech from the Internet within 24 hours of it being reported, according to reports from the Associated Press and AFP. Under the agreement, it will be easier for anti-racism groups to flag hate speech on each of the services. The twin reports cited German laws, which ban speech that incites or instigates harmful action.

Complaints will be examined by special teams inside the companies that will decide whether the content violates German laws, and not just the terms of use for each site, a German official said. It's unclear exactly how this process will work, who will have final say and if there will be any appeal process. It's also unclear whether posts removed from view in Germany will still be accessible outside the country.

A Twitter spokesman declined to comment. Representatives from Facebook, Google and the German government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The impetus for the agreement was concerns that social networks could "become a funfair for the far right," said German Justice Minister Heiko Maas, according to AFP.

The move could be a watershed moment for social networks. Until now, most social networks have attempted to apply a single set of rules, their terms of use, across all users throughout the globe. This has caused some rankling in the past, particularly in countries with repressive or despotic governments that have rules against certain speech or imagery. The agreement with Germany will help reduce hate speech on these sites, but it could also potentially hurt free speech on the Web.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter's management team in the past have argued in favor of free speech rights.

"We're trying to connect everyone in the world and give everyone a voice," Zuckerberg said in January after the terror attacks against French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. "This is about freedom of expression."

Each of the services already have rules against some types of posts, including images depicting certain types of nudity as well as forms of hate speech. If they remove posts, it's usually after a user flags them for review.