ExtremismGermany Unveils New Plan to Fight Far-Right Extremism, Online Hate Speech

Published 30 October 2019

Facing a growing far-right extremist violence, the German government today (Wednesday) unveiled a series of new measures giving intelligence and law enforcement services more power to combat the threat. Among the new measures: Tightening gun laws; more protection for political figures at all levels; a requirement for social media companies to report online criminal content; and reducing privacy protection for social media posters disseminating hate and incitement.

After the deadly attack on a synagogue and the killing of a pro-immigration politician, the German government has unveiled its new measures to tackle far-right extremist violence.

Opposition politicians say the plans are long overdue.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports that among the new measures are: Tightening of gun laws; more protection for political figures at all levels; and a requirement to report online criminal content for social media networks such as Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter.

The new measures were announced by the German government on Wednesday as part of a new strategy which aims to take a more decisive stance toward far-right extremism and hate speech on the internet.

For more than a year, Germany’s Interior and Justice Ministries have debated the new bill, but recent far-right extremist violence in Germany pushed the German government to accelerate the pace and come out with the new law months earlier than planned.

In June, Walter Lübcke, a pro-immigration politician from Chancellor Angela Merkel Christian Democratic Party (CDU), was gunned down at his home in central Germany by a right-wing extremist affiliated with a neo-Nazi group. Three weeks ago, a heavily armed man killed two people outside a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle, after failing to enter the building in order to carry out a mass shooting.

The suspect in the Halle attack, 27-year-old Stephan B., admitted to be motivated by anti-Semitism, and was found to have visited websites which circulated far-right and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer of the conservative CSU – a sister party of Merkel’s CDU — said on Wednesday that in the wake of the terrorist attack in Halle, it was important that the “government’s words were followed by actions.”

Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) said the German government “is confronting right-wing extremism and anti-Semitism by all means enabled by of the rule of law.”

What the disinhibition and unleashing of hatred in the net can lead to was shown again in the terrible attack on the Jewish community in Halle,” she added.

The new security measures will allow Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the BfV, to take on a more prominent, and aggressive, role in monitoring and prosecution of hate online.

The new measures include

·  Online service providers such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter will be required to report hate speech to German authorities, and also pass on the IP address of the conspicuous user. Until now, such social media giants have only been required to delete hate speech within a certain time period.

·  Gun laws will be tightened, with each request for a weapon permit to be checked by the BfV.

·  Existing prevention programs which aim to tackle right-wing extremism, anti-Semitism, racism, and hostility toward any targeted group will be developed and financing “maintained at a high level.”

·  Local politicians will be provided with the same special protection against defamation and slander now given to state and federal politicians, and attacks against paramedics and emergency medical professionals will be treated in the same way as attacks against law enforcement officers. Legal changes will also make it easier for people threatened by far-right extremist violence to block access to their private email address.

Already on Wednesday, opposition politicians were expressing their skepticism over how the obligation to report hate would be implemented. Konstantin von Notz, a Green Party politician who serves as the party’s internet policy spokesperson, told Deutschlandfunk radio that the online “big players” have so far been treated “very mildly,” adding that financial penalties for not reporting and deleting hate speech should be in the “high tens and hundreds of millions.”

Otherwise you won’t be able to hold these companies to account…This is the only lever you can use to deal with corporations that follow an economic, stock company logic,” von Notz said, adding that the measures were “long overdue.”

The business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) also voiced their doubts about the effectiveness of the new measures. “Obligating sites to disclose information will not effectively combat hate crime,” said FDP politician Benjamin Strasser.

Meanwhile, Germany’s Data Protection Commission said it will be observing the developments closely as Wednesday’s proposals move toward becoming law.

At this point it’s too early to say whether this is good or bad,” commission spokesperson Dirk Hensel told DW. “But there will certainly be questions to be asked regarding the ethics of private companies deeming what counts as a conspicuous post on social media.”

Critics of the new measures also noted that complications may arise if a referral turns out to be a mistake, by which point private data will already have been shared between private companies and German domestic intelligence.