OSCE watchdog criticizes German social media law as too broad

VIENNA (Reuters) - The OSCE media watchdog on Wednesday criticized a German law designed to fine social media networks for dragging their feet in removing hateful postings for being too broad and called on lawmakers to consider amending it.

The German parliament in June approved legislation, in force since the beginning of the month, that allows authorities to punish groups such as Facebook or Twitter if they do not promptly delete hate postings.

Harlem Desire, the media freedom chief of the 57-state Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, said he hoped the German law would encourage providers to speedily process users’ complaints, but added its effects could be excessively restrictive.

“I appeal to the German authorities to take steps to ensure the careful implementation of the law, evaluate its effects and be ready to amend it in parliament, if necessary, as in its current form, the law may have a chilling effect on freedom of expression,” Desire said in a statement.

“According to the law’s provisions, decisions to remove content considered unlawful or illegitimate from social networks rests with the operators of those networks, who may remove more than is necessary or proportionate, and the list of offences for which content may be deleted is very broad.”

Germany has some of the world’s toughest laws covering defamation, public incitement to commit crimes and threats of violence, with prison sentences for Holocaust denial or inciting hatred against minorities. However, few online cases are prosecuted.

The new law gives social media networks 24 hours to delete or block obviously criminal content and seven days to deal with less clear-cut cases, with an obligation to report back to the person who filed the complaint about how they handled the case.

Failure to comply could see a company fined up to 50 million euros ($59 million), and the company’s chief representative in Germany fined up to 5 million euros.

Critics of a new hate speech law in Germany are optimistic that it can be revised after its Social Democratic sponsors vowed to drop out of the ruling coalition following last month’s national election and go into opposition.

Reporting by Shadia Nasralla; editing by Ken Ferris