The Corner

National Security & Defense

German Officials Seek to Control ‘Fake News’ Online — and Hope the EU Will Follow Suit

German officials are following through on their promise to do something about fake news and “hate speech” on the Internet. A proposed law that Angela Merkel supports would impose fines as high as $53 million on social-media networks that do not satisfactorily police what their users post.

Wednesday, Merkel’s cabinet approved the “draft bill” likely to become law. Germany already has speech restrictions, but this bill would go a step further by making companies such as Twitter and Facebook responsible to remove offending content within 24 hours. If they fail to do so, they could face multimillion-dollar fines.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas justified this by saying, “Social-network providers are responsible when their platforms are misused to propagate hate crimes and fake news.” He went on to say that this would work best if European Union laws, not merely German ones, combated fake news. Continent-wide censorship — what could go wrong?

It’s disheartening to see yet another restriction placed on free speech in Europe, but this law has other problems. The threat of fines over $50 million to social-media companies is excessive, and it would almost certainly lead to Facebook and Twitter devoting an outsized portion of their resources to policing users’ content. The law would place responsibility for private persons’ “hate” in the corporate bodies whose servers carry the messages — making overzealous control of political posts a likely result.

German authorities should realize that restricting free speech backfires. It is an international embarrassment that Germany is allowing a criminal probe against satirist Jan Böhmermann for reading a poem mocking Turkish autocrat Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Germany should be taking this opportunity to roll back their speech restrictions, not expand them. Policing “fake” and “hateful” ideas on the Internet is a fool’s errand, and a Europe-wide movement to prove otherwise would lead to myriad unintended consequences.

Most Popular

White House

A Thought on the Trump-DOJ Scandal

We Americans have a habit of putting fundamental social and political questions out of our minds by turning them into technical legal questions. This tendency is one of the forces at work in the increasingly dramatic showdown between the Department of Justice and the President of the United States. There is ... Read More
World

Richard Pipes, Historian of Totalitarianism

‘My subject is the Russian Revolution, arguably the most important event of the twentieth century. It is my considered judgment that, had it not been for the Russian Revolution, there would very likely have been no National Socialism; probably no Second World War and no decolonization; and certainly no Cold ... Read More
Culture

School Shootings and the Incentives of Violence

Today’s Morning Jolt discusses school shootings and the common difficulties of the teenage years, and I thought of another aspect that I forgot to include -- the degree to which our society, in its reaction to violence, inadvertently rewards that violence. Every teenager wants attention, to be recognized, to ... Read More
NR Marketing

Down the Home Stretch

Our Spring 2018 Webathon winds up this week. El jefe, Mr. Lowry, makes the case, wonderfully, for your participating, even at this final stage. In case you need some visual inspiration, we’ll use this horse race image from the novel Ben Hur (you'll remember the 1959 movie version starred the late NR ... Read More