Germany to require social media sites to report hate speech

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German Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht makes a statement on hate crime and right-wing extremism, in her ministry, in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. Sharing threats made by someone else could soon become a punishable offense in Germany, after the government approved a bill Wednesday designed to crack down on hate speech and online extremism. (Wolfgang Kumm/dpa via AP)

Following the killing of a politician and an attack on a synagogue last year, German government officials have announced plans to require companies like Facebook and YouTube to report certain kinds of hate speech to the police and provide the users’ IP addresses. Companies are already required to delete such posts.

The widespread use of virtual private networks (VPNs), however, which effectively hide users’ IP addresses, could make the crackdown largely meaningless.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that under a measure that won Cabinet backing, Internet companies would be compelled to report numerous kinds of hate speech to federal police: far-right propaganda, graphic portrayals of violence, murder or rape threats, preparations for terrorism and images of child sexual abuse.

The measures still require the approval of parliament.

Facebook declined to comment on the bill.

The bill advanced Wednesday also would broaden the definition of criminal hate speech to include threats of rape or property damage and even expressing approval of serious crimes.

“Whoever threatens to kill people … isn’t expressing an opinion, he’s committing a crime,” Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht said, likening speech to actually perpetrating a harmful act.

Jurists estimate the number of online hate speech cases in Germany each year to be in the six figures. Hundreds of additional police officers and prosecutors will be required to handle the workload.

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