Twitter Sues Over German Online Reporting Rule

Twitter joins Facebook and Google in filing lawsuits against a new law in Germany that obliges social networking platforms to report offences to police

Twitter has become the latest tech platform to push back against a new law in Germany that obliges social networking platforms to report criminal behaviour.

On Monday a court in Germany confirmed that a new law (coming into force today, Tuesday) obliges social media firms to block or delete criminal content quickly, and report particularly serious criminal offences to the police, Reuters reported.

But Twitter has filed a lawsuit against this law, at the administrative court in Cologne. The legal action is challenging the provision under Germany’s expanded anti-hate speech regulations (known locally as NetzDG) that Twitter says allows user data to be passed to law enforcement before it is clear any crime has been committed.

Twitter lawsuit

Reuters reported that Meta (Facebook) and Alphabet (Google) have already filed similar lawsuits in Germany last summer.

“We are concerned that the law provides for a significant encroachment on citizens’ fundamental rights,” a Twitter spokesperson was quoted by Reuters as saying.

“In particular, we are concerned that the obligation to proactively share user data with law enforcement forces private companies into the role of prosecutors by reporting users to law enforcement even when there is no illegal behaviour,” said the spokesperson.

Germany enacted the anti-hate speech law in early 2018, making online social networks such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter responsible for policing and removing toxic content.

The law, which also required social networks to publish regular reports on their compliance, was widely criticised as ineffective, and parliament in May 2021 passed legislation to toughen and broaden its application, Reuters reported.

The new regulation is intended to help German law enforcement better target right-wing extremism and hate speech online.

As far back as 2012, Twitter has been blocking access to neo-Nazi accounts to users in Germany.

Online hate

But in recent years there has been growing pressure from governments and regulators to make big name tech firms clamp down on online hate.

Last year Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen said that the social network was making online worse.

But it should be remembered that major social networking platforms including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have already agreed with large advertisers to outside audits of their efforts to tackle hate speech.

The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) announced the agreement that will see the platforms adopt common definitions and reporting standards for harmful content.

It came after a number of civil rights groups organised an advertising boycott of Facebook in 2020, due to concerns at hate speech of the platform.