On April 5, the German government passed (in German only) the draft of an Act Improving Law Enforcement on Social Networks (Netzwerkdurchführungsgesetz – NetzDG, in German only), which aims to restrict hate speech and "fake news" on social networking sites. The draft seeks to enforce already existing offenses and to improve take-down processes of content punishable under German criminal law (e.g., incitement of the people, defamation) by directly addressing social network providers. To this end, the draft subjects social networks to a number of new obligations, inter alia filing of a quarterly report on the network’s handling of complaints, deleting “blatantly criminal” content within 24 hours and all other illegal content within 7 days, deleting all copies of illegal content available on the network, documenting illegal content in order to provide evidence for criminal procedures, and informing the user and the complainant about decisions taken (and their reasons) in the complaint process. Social networks failing to comply with the imposed obligations (deliberately or negligently) risk fines of up to EUR 5 million.
While it is generally recognized that hate speech and related phenomena need to be targeted, the draft now proposed was met with criticism from industry associations, civil rights activists, and practitioners. The criticism focuses on the draft's vague wording – in particular, the scope remains unclear, with the term "social network" defined very broadly –, the resulting risk of over-blocking by networks, and its potential effect on free speech. Some also think (in German only) that the draft disregards rules of European law, like the country of origin principle. It remains to be seen what the European Commission's view will be, to which the draft was notified (with an English summary) on March 27.