Changes Would Require Further Transparency From Tech Companies In Content Takedowns
(New York, N.Y.) – Germany’s pioneering online content moderation law, the Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG), will soon be upgraded. Amendments to the law, which include requiring tech companies to proactively report extremist content to law enforcement, simplifying the user’s ability to flag suspected illegal content, and mandating that companies disclose how they manage cases that occur on their platform and with what technology, are promising steps forward in Germany’s attempt to prevent online extremism from translating to real-world violence.
As expected, the tech industry and its lobbyists have continued to pursue misleading arguments in light of efforts to strengthen the NetzDG law. Chief among the complaints are that it would stifle free speech and stifle innovation. However, those concerns are unfounded. A joint report between CEP and the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) found that six months after NetzDG’s implementation, the law did not result in a flood of reports or over-blocking, but rather a trickle of takedown requests. The study also found that the expense of implementing NetzDG was minimal at 1 percent of total revenue.
Others have even suggested that a tougher NetzDG could be used as a model of inspiration for authoritarian governments to curb political dissent. However, following through with this fallacious argument would mean that democratic governments would never enact any laws out of fear of their misuse. Democratically made laws by responsible governments do not embolden authoritarian states. Authoritarian ideologies embolden authoritarian states.
Earlier this year, the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) in Berlin released its recommendations for a “NetzDG 2.0” after testing big tech’s compliance with Germany’s 2018 NetzDG online content moderation law. In order to make social media safer, tech companies must make transparent the functions, resources, and results of their internal compliance systems, including the corresponding automated detection techniques as well as processes for content moderators.
The most current version of the law requires online platforms to remove “manifestly illegal” content within 24 hours only after it has been reported by users. However, as CEP found, more can be done. The March 2020 study revealed that YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram removed a mere 43.5 percent of clearly extremist and terrorist content, even after that material was reported for their illegal nature under the NetzDG. Of those companies studied, YouTube has been least compliant with the law’s requirements. The company blocked only 35 percent of the 80 videos that were reported and should have been blocked. Facebook and Instagram deleted or blocked all of the flagged content, but Facebook did not remove any content that was explicitly not flagged—even though that content contained the same reported illegal symbols. The procedural logic of "notice and take down" on which the NetzDG is based requires a systematic and continuous search for manifestly illegal content online and its subsequent reporting so that it can take effect.