Germany may impose a fine on Twitter for repeatedly failing to comply with the NetzDG, a social media hate speech takedowns law, according to an early test for Elon Musk.
After confirming it through user reports, the NetzDG requires social media platforms to remove illegal content such as hate speech within seven days, or 24 hours for the most obvious cases.
The Federal Justice Office (BfJ) has initiated proceedings under the NetzDG after identifying “sufficient indications of failures” in Twitter’s complaint management processes. The definition of illegal content is determined by Germany’s criminal code, which includes hate speech, abuse, threats, and antisemitism.
According to Techcrunch’s report, German courts are currently dealing with over 600 cases related to hate speech on Twitter.
NetzDG allows for fines of up to 50 million euros per case, the tech news portal revealed.
Given that Twitter has millions of active accounts, this could potentially result in billions of euros in fines for the social media giant if they continue to fail to comply with the law, in Germany or elsewhere where fines apply for such laws.
Germany’s lawsuit against Twitter for not effectively handling hate speech complaints could set a precedent for other countries to follow suit, potentially leading to a wave of legal action against social media platforms.
Last week, Elon Musk informed his employees that Twitter’s current value is around $20 billion, a significant drop from the $44 billion he purchased the company last year. If Twitter loses all 600 cases in Germany, it may face a fine of up to 30 billion euros, which is almost 33 billion dollars and significantly more than the company’s current value. This could potentially lead to the bankruptcy for Twitter. Although this is a theoretical scenario at present, it is possible that the number and amount of fines could add up to tens of millions of dollars, at a minimum.
In 2023, Twitter has 330 million monthly active users (MAUs), from 276 million more users since 2010.
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What proof exists?
The content concerned, says the BfJ, was posted over four months, and related to one individual, with ‘‘similar, unjustified, defamatory statements of opinion.’’ The name of the person concerned hasn’t been made public.
The BfJ has sufficient evidence that Twitter has violated the legal obligation to deal with complaints about illegal content,” says Germany’s Minister of Justice Marco Buschmann.
However, there are indications from both comprehensive research and personal accounts that suggest an increase in hate speech during Musk’s leadership.
Some controversial figures who were banned previously have been allowed back, including Andrew Anglin, the founder of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website, and Liz Crokin, a significant promoter of the QAnon conspiracy theory.
Other lesser-known Twitter users have also taken advantage of the new ownership, with some accounts containing racial slurs and neo-Nazi content.
According to the Institute of Strategic Dialogue, anti-Semitic tweets have doubled from June 2022 to February 2023, and there has been a 70% increase in religious extremist accounts. The Center for Countering Digital Hate in the UK found a significant increase in slurs after Musk’s takeover.
And while Elon Musk has repeatedly said that Twitter will abide by local laws, its content moderation has been decidedly shaky in recent months, with Musk having cut the number of staff it has working on content moderation and dealing with hate speech and harassment.
Facebook versus Twitter
While both Facebook and Twitter have been criticized for not doing enough to combat hate speech on their platforms, Facebook has taken a more proactive approach compared to Twitter. In recent years, Facebook has invested heavily in content moderation and has implemented stricter policies to remove hate speech and other harmful content from its platform. The company has also hired thousands of moderators and invested in advanced technology to detect and remove hate speech at a faster rate.
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