The Christian Science Monitor

Is Germany’s bold new law a way to clean up the internet or is it stifling free expression?

It was a seemingly innocuous tweet: The police in the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW) were extending New Year’s greetings to residents. In addition to a missive in German, the department sent their well wishes in French, English, and Arabic.

The last one didn’t sit well with Beatrix von Storch, a member of the far-right Alternative for Germany party. “What the hell is wrong with this country? Why is the official police page in NRW tweeting in Arabic?” she asked in a tweet of her own. Harking back to New Year’s Eve 2015, when groups of young men, many of whom authorities described as immigrants from North Africa, sexually assaulted women during the holiday revelry in Cologne, Germany, she wrote: “Do you think it is to appease the barbaric, gang-raping hordes of Muslim men?”

Several hundred kilometers south, editors at the satirical magazine Titanic saw the tweet and seized an opportunity to mock the politician. They changed their profile picture on Twitter to an image of Ms. von Storch and began parodying her. “The last thing that I want is mollified barbarian, Muslim, gang-raping hordes of men,” they tweeted.

On Jan. 1, Twitter suspended the accounts of both von Storch and Titanic. Von Storch posted the content of her tweet on Facebook, and that post was deleted, too. It was the first day of enforcement of a new German law forcing social media companies to promptly remove hate speech and other illegal content posted on their networks. 

In the struggle to deal with the explosion of abusive and hateful content on social media sites, Germany is staking out one of the most aggressive and far-reaching positions of any country in the world – and is being closely watched as a result. 

The new law, known as NetzDG in Germany, requires large social media

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