On April 1, 2020, Germany’s federal government published a new draft bill to amend the German Hate Speech Act (Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz – “NetzDG”; see also our earlier blog of October 2, 2017). The draft bill (“Bill”) is available in German here.

The Bill will introduce a number of improvements for users of social networks. It will also supplement the amendments to the NetzDG proposed already on February 19, 2020 in the Draft Bill to Combat Right-wing Extremism and Hate Crime (Gesetzentwurf zur Bekämpfung des Rechtsextremismus und der Hasskriminalität; more information is available in German here). In particular, platform providers will need to arrange for more user-friendly notification procedures, and also establish and maintain procedures that enable users to object to the deletion of comments they have made and have their comments reposted on the platform.

Germany’s Federal Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection, Christine Lambrecht, said:

“With the reform we are strengthening the rights of users of social networks. We make it clear: reporting channels must be easy for everyone to find and easy to use. Anyone who is threatened or insulted on the Internet must be able to report this to the social network simply and straightforwardly. Furthermore, we are simplifying the enforcement of information claims: Anyone who wants to defend themselves against threats or insults in court should be able to demand the necessary data much more easily than before. We are also improving protection against unauthorized deletions: In future, affected parties will be able to demand that the decision to delete their posts be reviewed and substantiated. This increases transparency and protects against unauthorized deletions.”
(translated from the original German wording on the website of the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection)

The Bill is intended to transpose the amended EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive 2018/1808 (“AVMSD”) into national law. The amended AVMSD provides for compliance obligations to protect against criminal content on video-sharing platform services. These obligations also apply to smaller and topic-specific providers, such as platforms for the distribution of game videos. Accordingly, the Bill extends the NetzDG’s scope to providers of video-sharing platform services.

The key amendments under the Bill can be summarized as follows:

Strengthening user rights

If a user’s own post is deleted or a post reported as illegal is retained, users can in future demand that the platform provider review its decision. The platform provider must justify the outcome of its review to the user who requested the review on a case-by-case basis. To this end, the platform provider must introduce a counter-notification procedure.

Making reporting channels more user-friendly

The requirements for complaint procedures under the NetzDG will be supplemented by further user-friendly provisions, such as a requirement for the reporting channel to be easy to access and use.

Simplifying the enforcement of information claims

The Federal Telemedia Act (Telemediengestez – “TMG”) will be amended such that in future the court dealing with the admissibility of data disclosure can also issue orders requiring platform providers to disclose data. This will simplify the procedure that those affected must follow in order to obtain information from platform providers, for example, about the identity of an offender.

Increasing the value of the information in transparency reports

The information requirements for platform providers’ semi-annual transparency reports are supplemented by various other provisions. In future, changes to previous reports must be explained. Furthermore, platform providers must, in particular, provide information on the application and results of counter-notification procedures and report on automated procedures for finding and deleting illegal content.

In addition, future reports must state whether and to what extent the platform providers have granted independent research institutions access to anonymized data for scientific purposes. Access to anonymized data from the platforms could provide scientists with important insights into which groups of people are systematically targeted by illegal content on the Internet and to what extent there is concerted and coordinated illegal behavior by groups of authors.

More information on the scope of future amendments to the NetzDG is available in a comprehensive FAQ section on the website of the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection.