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In Germany, online hate speech has real world consequences (www.economist.com)
74 points by anigbrowl 1 month ago | hide | past | web | 184 comments | favorite





This comment vastly understates the effects of this law. Social Media companies are scared af to be fined by the German government, so the filters are so strong, that it targets the wrong people. A couple of comedians and satire magazines have been hit, left leaning people as well as right leaning people alike.

In general, I don't think it's a good idea for the government to decide what I can post on social media or not. There are already laws against defamation and "volksverhetzung" (sry I don't no the translation, basically it means I can't say "kill all the jews/muslims, they are filthy swines"), so keep the internet free from more regulation on speech. The internet is one of the last places where people have some sort of freedom of opinion/listening to different opinions, and our lawmakers make it more and more unfree.


It's my understanding that you can thank Facebook for that law. Unless it hits their bottom line (or shows naked female breasts) it was nearly impossible to get a post deleted, even if it was clearly illegal. While it's unfortunate that such a relatively crude law was implemented it's at the end a reaction to the general, ultralibertarian "we don't give a fuck, unless it really hurts" attitude coming out of Silicon Valley. Uber is an even worse example of that attitude.

None of that is a reason to make a law that has a private company decide what are in effect criminal cases against citizens.

The minister responsible at some point made the completely idiotic remark that that is the right way to go because Facebook and the like are making a lot of money, so they also should be responsible for these costs. It seems like you can be a minister in Germany and never have heard of this concept called "taxes" that other countries use to finance an independent judicial system.


By any normal definition these aren't criminal cases. People don't end up losing jobs, going behind bars, gaining criminal records. They usually won't even lose their accounts; certainly the law doesn't suggest that. They simply cannot spread hate-speech.

The actual effects of this law in terms of possibly useful message lost are minuscule compared to the real culprits of goverment-enforced speech restrictions: namely copyrights ( and extras like DMCA) & libel laws. Those actually matter.

This doesn't.


> By any normal definition these aren't criminal cases.

It is a decision made to limit your constitutional freedoms due to legal obligations towards the public. That is very much the definition of a criminal case.

> People don't end up losing jobs, going behind bars, gaining criminal records.

Parking in the wrong spot also doesn't lead to any of that, but it's still a criminal case.

> They simply cannot spread hate-speech.

So, Titanic was spreading hate speech then?

> The actual effects of this law in terms of possibly useful message lost are minuscule compared to the real culprits of goverment-enforced speech restrictions: namely copyrights ( and extras like DMCA) & libel laws. Those actually matter.

Which is relevant to whether this is a good law how?


Parking in the wrong spot also doesn't lead to any of that, but it's still a criminal case.

It actually isn't. PArking ticket and the like are administrative violations, not criminal. Admittedly most people are unaware of this distinction; unfortunately that lack of awareness is exploited by, for example, politicians and pundits who describe all undocumented immigrants as criminals, when in fact many of them are in administrative violation and might be deportable but are not guilty of criminal acts or subject to criminal penalties.

So, Titanic was spreading hate speech then?

Against who? I have a feeling I'm going to roll my eyes at the answer, though.


>It is a decision made to limit your constitutional freedoms

Just because your Facebook post is deleted does not mean your constitional right to free speech is limited.


> Parking in the wrong spot also doesn't lead to any of that, but it's still a criminal case.

It is not, it is an administrative offence.


a law that has a private company decide what are in effect criminal cases against citizens

The private company is a publisher which is being held responsible for what it chooses to publish. Individual citizens have a right to hold and express their views, but not an automatic right to publication. If their views are so odious as to invite criminal sanction, it's entirely reasonable for them to incur extra costs/difficulty of publication.

Now this is where someone usually pipes up with 'but my freedoms!' and that's all very well, but if the freedom they wish to exercise involves proposing limits on the freedom of others (perhaps even by ending their lives) then that person is proposing a zero-sum view of freedom for others and cannot complain about having a zero-sum calculus imposed upon their own political expression.

Popper's paradox of tolerance may be explicable in terms of the boundary between positive and zero-sum games. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradox_of_tolerance


Which is relevant to the question of whether a private company should decide legal cases against citizens how exactly?

> Individual citizens have a right to hold and express their views, but not an automatic right to publication.

Well, yes, that is what that means. They have a right to not be hindered by the state in publishing their opinion (unless hate speech, essentially).


Declining to publish isn't the same as deciding a legal case. Nobody has a right to be published by another party.

If you think any judicial system in the world is - or could be - equipped to deal with millions of potentially criminal comments from a social network on a case per case basis you are deluding yourself. More than that, it would be a textcase of privatising profits and leaving the costs to pick up for everyone else, while facebook siphoons the profits to tax havens.

> If you think any judicial system in the world is - or could be - equipped to deal with millions of potentially criminal comments from a social network on a case per case basis you are deluding yourself.

So, what's your point then? No judicial system possibly could, but Facebook can? Or Facebook can't either, so let's just ignore the constitution?

> More than that, it would be a textcase of privatising profits and leaving the costs to pick up for everyone else, while facebook siphoons the profits to tax havens.

Wut? Taxing Facebook more in order to finance an independent judicial system that takes care of the legal cases involving Facebook is a textbook case of privatising profits and externalising costs? I'm not sure I follow!?

Also, I'm not sure it's really exactly correct to say that Facebook is the source of these costs, given that it's citizens who say illegal things. If people meet in a pub to commit Volksverhetzung, is the pub the source of the law enforcement costs?


Which constitution? The German one? I am sure they did not ignore it when writing this law, and if they did, someone will refer it to the BVerfG, which can then cancel the law. Anyway, private media (as opposed to public media, such as the BBC, ARD etc where the rules are very different) are not bound by laws or constitution to publish everything anyone throws at them. The corporations and individuals are free to do anything that is not forbidden by laws. So Facebook is free to decide what to publish, unless it is forbidden by law.

> Wut? Taxing Facebook more in order to finance an independent judicial system that takes care of the legal cases involving Facebook is a textbook case of privatising profits and externalising costs? I'm not sure I follow!?

Perhaps I missed where you mentioned raising taxes for Facebook as a solution. That's an interesting idea. I see two possible problems with that:

1) Facebook sells ads. Other companies sell ads. How do we decide who pays the higher tax and who not, and make it fair? For example, Google (sans Youtube and the irrelevant G+) is not a social network, but can still spread disinfo, hate speech etc. Should they pay the tax too?

2) Even if we had the money for such a judicial system, there is still the question of effectivity - the damage spreads very fast in this case, can we even design such a thing that provides good value for money while staying reasonably objective? And of course Facebook has the same problem now, as other private media (newspapers, TV stations) had before them - and the cheap solution seems to be to err on the side of caution. Are you soure we can do better?

I think it is correct, Facebook (and twitter, ...) extracts value from communication between citizens, and it looks like (e.g. from the Economist article mentiond above) also creates negative externalities that did not exist before.


Facebook makes money off that criminal activity via ads. It's not as clear cut as you make it.

... and therefore they should be the ones that decide the case?! I'm not sure I follow.

Every large corporation makes money off people using their services for illegal purposes, that's not exactly a reason to give them powers to decide legal cases against their customers, is it?


Actually... the most obvious case where large corporations make money off people using their services for illegal purposes - banks - require the bank to shut down the account if it appears the customer might be doing something dodgy. So there's definitely precedent.

>powers to decide legal cases against their customers

Facebook is free to do whatever they want on their platform. There are no legal cases involved.


Facebook paid 466.000 Euros in taxes in Germany / 2015.

(Source http://www.tagesspiegel.de/wirtschaft/neue-finanzstruktur-wi...)


Unfortunately government making laws boils, when examining this closely, comes down to lawyers making laws. That is the most common job and education in congress, and parliaments in Europe are no different, even stronger. Second is economics.

What you won't find is engineers, of any kind, developers, or any kind of practical education.

Which means laws very often ignore practical considerations as to how they were applied. An example often given is equality between men and women. Since 1980s and up to 2005 in various countries laws were passed that married and unmarried couples are equal before the law. Including of course same sex couples, or "couples" involving more than 2 people. I'm not complaining about that concept, but it's implementation is emblematic of just how bad governments are.

However ...

1) Okay, they're equal. So when are 2 or more people a couple ? Not specified, of course (courts seem to have settled on when you share address for a given amount of time you're married. So Good News (tm) ! You were legally married if you had a roommate in college).

2) Related. When are people not a couple anymore ? Not specified.

3) What if these people separate ? Are the any obligations ? Not specified.

4) What if people are living together and one, unbeknownst to the other, incurs a great debt ? Can that debt be held against the other (like for married couples) ? Unspecified.

5) What about shared ownership ? What about registering a property/house in both their names ? Unspecified.

6) Does entering in a couple relationship (as in living at the same address for a while) give raise to obligations in case of separation ? What about kids, adopted or otherwise ? Does one party owe the other alimony if they separate in less than amicable circumstances ? Unspecified.

7) What about all of tenancy law, family law, contract law, ... all of which applies ("applied") differently to couples and separate individuals ? A million questions. All of which are unspecified. What if 3 people are living together and one adopts a kid ? Do all 3 have custody now ? How about separation ?

Congress, however, merely wanted to look good voting a very generic law into existence. There was close to zero consideration of how that affected all existing systems, and even when problems became apparent, no reaction from parliament.

And if it's this bad for things that are directly in the domain of lawyers themselves, you can imagine just how bad it is for things they don't understand.


Oh, don't be daft. It's never as careless as 'simply legislate equality'. Look at the UK's Civil Partnership Act 2004 if you want to see how this stuff is normally done. 264 clauses and 30 schedules to make clear what law applies to people in civil partnerships and what doesn't (https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2004/33/contents).

When a government passes a law prohibiting discrimination in employment on the basis of (say) gender identity, it essentially inherits the previous caselaw from previous employment discrimination acts - so if you know how not to discriminate against women, you have a pretty good idea how not to discriminate against transwomen.

Finally, quite a lot of changes are made piecemeal by caselaw anyway - that's the basis of the Anglo-American common law. So even as adoption law (say) evolves, it does so casewise, not generally by handing a large edict from on high and breaking people's understanding of what the law is.

At least in the UK, parental responsibility (and, separately, custody) are well-defined, including the cases where there are zero, one, two, or more people holding it. Grandparents and friends raising children has, after all, been a thing for centuries. Ditto handling splitting partnerships, ditto handling unconventional domestic arrangements.

Ditto tenancy law. Ditto contract law. Particularly ditto shared ownership, which can even legally handle weird situations where people bought houses on behalf of other people who died, and...

I'm really not sure what basis your argument is actually on.


> Oh, don't be daft.

This breaks the HN guideline against name-calling in arguments. Please don't do that, regardless of how bad someone's argument is.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


How about regulators in your country gets regional delete link for every public content ? Does that soothe govts concern ?

No, it's the fault of the German authorities and the German culture. They've been pushing toward increased speech controls online since the Web became popular. The point is to better match their speech restrictions offline. The imbalance between the two was guaranteed to end. This didn't just start with the popularization of Facebook the last ten years.

Unless you give more facts, I'd say you are mostly repeating the argument the post you answered to, albeit from another viewpoint. Of course there is the notion that the law is applied to offline and online talk in the same way. The most important distinction in german law is whether the talk is made in public. And Facebook (and to a degree Twitter) surely brought the possibility to a lot of people to make their talk public who hadn't as easy access to an audience before. And surely, Facebook and Twitter did not give proper access to remedies for victims before. What they had was a broad, intransparent workflow that did not match the german law. Civil suits against them regarding such issues are, due to the nature of such suits against huge foreign corporations, mostly inaccessible if you are not equipped with enough funds to go to court for a few rounds.

This is not to say that the law is fine. Its intentions, however, arguably are. To oppose this viewpoint, you would have to defend a world where hate speech and libel go (erratically, but mostly) without defense for the victims. From a very libertarian viewpoint, that may be an acceptable sacrifice, though.


> No, it's the fault of the German authorities and the German culture. They've been pushing toward increased speech controls online since the Web became popular.

Source? Because as a German I strongly disagree with that statement.


For one anecdote, webmasters are held liable for comments hosted on their discussion platforms, if there's no moderation.

A notion in the more calmed legal discussion (as opposed to lobby talk from the freedom movements, which I usually support but feel to be very narrow-sighted at the moment w/ regard to this law - see what is now carried into the comments here) is that this effect might be mitigated by a counterweight law - or rather addendum - that mitigates overreaction by the corporations.

This is german legal culture: our law system is first, foremost and mostly codified. And regulation is used more heavily than in the US law system.

Note that the stated goal of the law is most probably the exact point: making access to effective defense of your rights possible to anyone. The reality consisted of slow law enforcement (which has to act against people who made the speech in question, often anonymous or denying having done it), inaccessible data of the other party (for civil suits) and an intransparent mechanism that did not follow the german legal system on behalf of the corporations.


> Note that the stated goal of the law is most probably the exact point: making access to effective defense of your rights possible to anyone.

Which is completely and utterly fails at in the obvious way, in that your right to free speech is limited by a strong incentive for corporations to silence you if in doubt?

> The reality consisted of slow law enforcement (which has to act against people who made the speech in question, often anonymous or denying having done it)

And the solution to insufficient law enforcement is to have some private corporation do the job instead? I don't think that many people disagree that there was a problem, but the solution is terrible and creates lots of problems itself.


It mostly mirrors classic consumer protection law. It's a civil law issue and regulation in such issues is always a try to remedy imbalances of power. As law enforcement goes, there is no public office assigned to deal in behalf of a party in civil law cases. There's the courts, which are slow and arguably understaffed and with a much higher bar to access them in the first place. And regulation. Regulation does not always get it right and I'm not arguing that it did here. My point is that there was a problem and regulation tried to solve it. I don't see that bad effects were intended, which is the point I was trying to make. I think that the legal discussion in Germany mostly prefers an addendum to, not a revokation of the law in question.

Which speech acts are likely to incur legal sanction, exactly? What about the effects of those speech acts upon their subjects? The German approach is to hold the speaker liable for that cost. Some speech acts reduce the freedom of other people.

> Which speech acts are likely to incur legal sanction, exactly?

This is not about legal legal sanction, but about de-facto legal sanction. By definition, Facebook is only exercising its property rights. But that doesn't change the fact that they do limit perfectly legal speech as a result of a law that forces them to decide whether a given speech act is illegal, thus putting them in the de-facto role of a court, just with completely skewed incentives.

If the same law said that a judge would have to pay heavy fines if they didn't order the deletion of "obviously illegal speech", that would incentivise judges to not respect the constitutional rights of citizens, right? And would therefore probably be unconstitutional, right? Now, this law has effectively the exact same effect, by simply making Facebook the de-facto judge with that incentive, just with the added problem that the people making the decisions have no clue of the law.


It seems to me that Facebook is in the business of publishing people's comments and pictures on its platform in order to profit by displaying advertising next to them. As a publisher in the German market, it can be held to the same standard as any other publisher. You complain that the people making the decisions have no clue of the law, but nothing stops Facebook hiring German staff with the requisite legal knowledge to discharge that obligation, or alternatively declining to accept connections from German IP addresses.

Now that I have answered your points, please do me the courtesy of answering the question I posed above instead of deflecting it.


> There are already laws against defamation and "volksverhetzung"

Exactly. There was no need for this new internet censorship law at all, for they could've just started applying existing hate speech laws.

Instead they introduced this new shady law, which essentially turns social network companies into a part of the judicial branch.

The situation now is exactly as you have described it -- the companies fear the German fines and act overzealously.

Perhaps an outsourced, overzealous judicial branch is exactly what the German government wanted? As they're free of the restraints that bind the official judicial branch.


> There was no need for this new internet censorship law at all, for they could've just started applying existing hate speech laws.

The new law (NetzDG, roughly "network enforcement act" [1]) was intended to facilitate applying existing laws against illegal content, by mandating that every site with > 2 million users needs to have a clear procedure for reporting illegal content.

Unfortunately, there are only fines for failing to delete obviously illegal content and none for just deleting everything that is reported and not obviously legal. The law makes provisions for handing over tricky cases to an external agency, but expected the companies to jointly set it up themselves ("regulated self-regulation"), which they didn't do; likely because the people checking reports at such an agency are legally mandated to be competent.

[1] https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/netzdg/BJNR335210017.html


>Unfortunately, there are only fines for failing to delete obviously illegal content

This is not the case, there is no fine for failing to delete obviously illegal content.


This is correct and unfortunately it has been twisted so much through public debate that nobody believes it. The fines are for systematically ignoring that law, not for singular mistakes they make.

Okay, rereading the law, the fine is for not making a process available that guarantees (among other things) that obviously illegal content is deleted or locked within 24 hours unless a different deadline has been negotiated for that specific content.

The effect is the same: the easiest way to implement the requirements in the law is to default to deletion.


But there always was a very clear procedure for reporting illegal content: You visit your local police station and tell them.

And that never went anywhere, because Facebook disobeyed even court orders. They never replied to judges. They never took down posts a court had ordered them to.

The NetzDG is bad law, and will probably be repealed before the Constitution Court rules it unconstitutional.

But it was a reaction to social networks disobeying the law. An overreaction, yes, but a reaction.

I wish it were more commonly known in libertarian and net freedom circles that the pendulum swings both ways. After excesses in one direction it will swing far into the other direction.

Maybe keep that in mind when pursuing extreme goals at any cost, instead of find8ng a middle way that works for everyone.

I think the NetzDG is crap and won‘t stay for long. But I also think that Facebook and Twitter deserve all this pain.


Well, sure, but it didn't go nowhere because a clear procedure for reporting didn't exist, but because the law was not enforced and maybe because some pieces necessary for successful enforcement were missing (which the NetzDG adds, in addition to all the crap that privatizes the law enforcement).

Really, I don't see many people in "net freedom circles" who object to forcing Facebook to delete illegal posts. The objection is rather to (a) deleting stuff instead of prosecuting the perpetrators, (b) hiding (censoring) stuff that's still there, and (c) making parties other than the judicial system responsible for limiting speech.

But, yeah, sure, I don't care about Facebook or Twitter either.


This is for prosecution. The removal of such speech is a civil suit. Facebook/Twitter might have taken a post more serious when the police came and asked questions, but then, they might not. And prosecution might not what a victim was after, as this involved being part of a legal case where your stance is weaker than that of the claimed perpetrator (as it is a penal case then).

>The new law (NetzDG, roughly "network enforcement act" [1]) was intended

Intent never matters. What matters is what happens in reality. The road to hell is paved by good intentions.


How big are the fines? When companies left and right write off fines as business expenses, what makes those different?

Up to 50 million Euros for repeated offenses.

I suggest people who believe censorship can stop hate speech take a little tour on China's social medias.

We had very strong censorship systems built by the government, but does it stopped hate speeches? No.

In fact, if you make people can only post & receives filtered info, then you are actually pushing them to an echo chamber. And an echo chamber is a very nice place for people to fermenting hate speeches (I'm not saying it will, but it could).

So in my opinion, hate speech is bad, but censorship is worse.

The problem must be solved in a different way, without introduce censorship.


It is possible that the censors in China are more accepting of hate speech than, say, political dissidence.

"Volksverhetzung" is a compound word with two roots: "Volks" (the people) + "Verhetzung" (manipulation) and the official translation of the criminal code is "Incitement to hatred" [1], rather than the "instigation of the people/masses" that a naive translation would imply.

[1] http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/englisch_stgb/englisch_stg...


Which is a rather rough translation, as its missing the relation to Volk. Which is tricky to translate, but nevertheless detailed in the law and officially translated: "... hatred against a national, racial, religious group or a group defined by their ethnic origins, against ...".

> basically it means I can't say "kill all the jews/muslims, they are filthy swines"

Do you know how strict those laws are? I mean, you just said that, albeit in a quotation, so I imagine that at least is out of the scope of the law? Or would it be something that got you in trouble if someone reported it?


The law is this one: http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/englisch_stgb/englisch_stg...

No, quoting an example of Volksverhetzung is not illegal, if you're not actually attempting to incite hatred.


No, only if it's a danger to "public peace", and that is actually taken pretty seriously. Citing it as an example is no problem at all, you can even say something like that in first person if it is satire or provocative art. Unless you make it clear that you actually want people to seriously think that jews/muslims are subhuman and should be killed, chances are very slim that you would be convicted for that.

> you can even say something like that in first person if it is satire or provocative art

I can give you a counter-example (although in France where we have similar laws). Patrick Sebastien, who is a well-known French humorist has been convicted for exactly that (he impersonated Jean-Marie Le Pen, far right politician, in a satire song "casser du noir").

Sorry but I can only find a reference to a French article http://www.liberation.fr/medias/1996/03/13/patrick-sebastien...

The judges concluded that this was indeed an incitation to racial hatred, which is illegal in France.


French and German law are similar but not equal and this falls clearly in to the allowed territory in Germany.

The problem with the law is that it leaves the decision to whatever website's moderators.

GP was talking about the old, established laws, which were enough to sanction the worst cases of hate speech and which were surprisingly safe from overreach and unintended consequences. Those old ones would rather leave a case unforced than throw out the baby with the bathwater.

What you seem to be taking about is the new one, which breaks many things in the hopeless attempt to maximise enforcement of the original laws. This is a recurring theme in lawmaking: everything has a certain maximum level of reasonable enforceability, and when laws are written to increase enforcement beyond that limit they universally turn out bad.


Yeah, obviously the law is not well designed and at least in some aspects redundant. I mean there was this popular Heise case (the German publisher) where it was clearly stated that Heise is responsible if people do violations against the Hate Speech law.

On the other hand the law got there because sites like Facebook - and yes also Heise - do a questionable job at handling racist content. And there are tools beyond filters, e.g. user ratings, real names on social platforms etc etc I mean even Facebook themselves are stating that even Fakenews (which is not necessarily racist or so) poses a problem to our society. I mean...HN has such a simple solution for this, the rating button, why is Facebook not able to come up with something comparable?

And yes... the article above states that such posts correlate with physical violence. The state kind of pulled the emergency brake.

> "kill all .. they are ..."), ... The internet is one of the last places

> where people have some sort of freedom of opinion/listening to

> different opinions

This is not an opinion. This is a request or a command. Sorry, writing this ethically a complete no go.


> I mean...HN has such a simple solution for this, the rating button

Simple indeed. This rating system must why it is so rare to see objectionable content on social media like Reddit.


I mean common instrumentation available is: yes rating button, real name, mandatory picture, verified picture, verified identity, friends feature, high visibility of friend feeds, public-only communication, admins... Social web services of any sort implement some combination of these.

Reddit implements only a rating button as far as I know. (Sorry not a regular user, but I bet it has one or two other mechanism to prevent people from posting complete trash regularly.)

Actually before Facebook become popular, almost all social media platforms were practically anonymous. In the middle of the 90s this worked IMHO quite well because only few people had access anyway. So you could see that Forums, chats etc became trashier. Facebook came up with real identity profiles (real name, picture etc etc), so the quality of content and contacts got exceptionally high for social media.

I guess another leap in this direction might become necessary. Not sure what this would be, but if we don't want state to babysit our social networks, the site operators better come up with innovations in that area.


The paper can be downloaded from

https://poseidon01.ssrn.com/delivery.php?ID=8201061010270271...

I have only skimmed through the paper, but I am a bit skeptical about their conclusions. The authors first showed that the attacks-on-refugees time series is strongly correlated to the anti-refugee-posts time series. This part is very basic and is OK.

Then they tried to exhibit a causal relationship between the two series, and it is the trend of posts that drives the trend of attacks but not the other way around. This is where I have doubts. Apparently, the authors didn't try something basic first --- like a Granger causality test --- but applied a somewhat obscure regression procedure to establish causality.

This procedure, which they called a Bartik-type approach, was invented only in 1991. Now I'm not familiar enough with time series analysis to know the merits of this Bartik-type approach and why Granger test is not useful in this case, but from the graph in the Economist article, it seems that the trend of attacks is leading the trend of posts, so I wonder if they were deliberately omitting a Granger causality test that might refute their conclusions.


Just to point out that "Granger causality test" is a terrible name as is does not really test causality, it tests correlations between time-lagged series; time-lagged correlation is not causation.

It's just a popular correlation test in the field of autocorrelated time-series.


It'd be more comforting to see something done by a psychologist.

A correlation between physical violence and negative verbal sentiment doesn't seem that surprising. That talk on an online forum precedes violence is plausible.

Claiming talk online /causes/ violence is a little surprising and has dangerous political implications, ie, makes a case to target speech of AfD, which polled a respectable ~10% in the last German federal election.


Another issue, they failed to investigate whether both things are caused by something else. E.g. what was the dynamic of migration inflow? If it has similar shape, this might explain both observations.

> New research suggests that this digital hatred is now spilling over into the real world.

I don't agree there is a distinction to be made here. The real world subsumes social media. Certainly violent crimes such as arson and assault are different, and more severe, than hateful or abusive posts or direct messages. Neither category is less real.


> Neither category is less real.

I think the context is that "real world" is supposed to mean it has a physical effect. The implication is that physical crimes are legitimately categorized crimes and speech crimes are not exactly legitimate (according to where you say words, they might be criminal).

I believe that some words that make someone/some group possibly feel bad (intrinsically, not just to libel), are not a real harm that is in need of remedy. Even if it is something that is known to make someone feel bad, I wouldn't consider it legitimate. It's always subjective and I don't subscribe to that kind of only-use-doublespeak-watchdog thinking.


That's the massive understanding I see when people who don't live in Germany complain about German censorship of speech:

It's not about feelings.

It's about shaping other people's opinions.

If someone says "jack9 is a kiddy fiddler" the damage is not that it might make jack9 upset, the damage is that others might think it's true and take actions that harm him.

If someone says "kill the kikes" the damage is not that Jewish people might be upset, the damage is that others might agree and commit violence against Jewish people.

It doesn't even have to be a convincing argument, it just has to give other people the impression their hatred is socially acceptable and their violence has public support.

Hate speech is like broken windows: the more a certain hateful sentiment is tolerated in society, the more socially acceptable that sentiment becomes, the more likely it becomes someone will act on it and that society will tolerate those actions too.

Hitler's rise to power was not a coup d'etat. Hitler didn't overthrow the government by killing generals and politicians and installing himself as leader. Hitler rose to power by manipulating people's sentiments with language. He created scapegoats and convinced people it's okay to channel their hate and frustration towards those scapegoats. When the Nazis first called for people to be killed or that their neighbors were inferior, few thought they meant it, but saying it over and over normalised the idea. They dehumanised their victims and their future enemies.

A lot of that rhetoric is normal in many places today and Trump's campaign wasn't even a special example. The rhetoric after 9/11 made Germans feel icky because it was so familiar but even then it wasn't new. Americans worry about racism and sexism, Germans worry about xenophobia -- hatred of the foreign, the different, the "other".


Oh, before anyone thinks this backs up radical "SJW" sentiments: there's plenty of hatred on that side of the arena as well. Intersectionality especially has a tendency to break down into othering. Victim narratives easily lend themselves to excusing violence against "abusers".

While we're going full Godwin: Nazi Germany started out as the victim of the victors of WW2 and socialist traitors. Germany's entry into WW2 literally was as the victim of Polish aggression. None of that is really true if you look at it objectively, of course, but that was the language used by nazis at the time.

If you the only thing making your behaviour morally righteous is your victimhood, maybe your behaviour isn't righteous at all.

I'm socialist-libertarian myself but that doesn't mean I tolerate the same damaging behaviour from "my" side.


In the US there is a fear of government taking too much of a role in "shaping the people's opinions." While your argument makes sense in combating xenophobia, it seems these controls are authoritarian in that you're still allowing the government--and individuals within government--to exercise such control over non-government individuals.

The difference is that this is made public. There is no secret conspiracy and marketing campaign to change public opinion. It is taught in schools and encoded in publically accessible law.

The big mistake in that logic is that controlling speech also means controlling what speech politicians can use. In the past years American politicians have literally asked for people like Assange and Snowden to be lynched or murdered in cold blood -- no due process, no courts, just shooting them or striking them down with a drone. If those politicians had expressed those sentiments on public TV in Germany, they'd have faced prison sentences.

The same people in the US who are scared of their government taking stances like "man-made climate change is real", "same-sex couples should be treated the same" or "maybe some people shouldn't own firearms" are the same people who comfortably arm the police to the teeth, send American soldiers to countries they wouldn't be able to find on a map, perpetually increase military spending, and demand the government regulates what people can do in their bedrooms or what public toilets they can use.

Americans aren't afraid of government getting too much power. Americans are afraid of government taking on positions they don't personally agree with and partisan thinking has led them to believe that "the others" are one term away from ruining the Greatest Nation on Earth and to think that as long as "their team" wins on election day, everything will be perfect.


> Hitler rose to power by manipulating people's sentiments with language. He created scapegoats and convinced people it's okay to channel their hate and frustration towards those scapegoats.

People should have the freedom to be persuaded to believe things that you don't agree with. It's OK to have a "wrong" opinion. Let people say what they want and believe what they want. I'm stunned that I still have to defend freedom of expression.


Do you not think there might be a difference between expressing an opinion and inciting people to violence?

Is inciting people to violence really anything other than expressing the opinion that violence is a good idea, and trying to persuade others to agree? Expressing any opinion should be allowed, and trying to persuade anyone of anything should be allowed.

Exactly. And here I was thinking there was such a thing as 'being an adult' and 'education' and 'freedom of speech' - do we really want to undermine the basic tenets of the Age of Reason? Because if I am not mistaken, censorship was a widespread reality and it took a very long time and a lot of blood to crawl out from underneath it. In other words: Do you think Hitler could have been stopped by not letting 'The Stormer' publish?

I think "could X have stopped Hitler" is asking the wrong question (and it betrays the same kind of black/white thinking that is fundamental to the rhetoric I mentioned).

The Treaty of Versailles was crippling the economy, the royalists felt betrayed by the social democrats who ended the Great War by surrendering, the Great Depression destabilised the banks, and so on. Even a bullet in the brain wouldn't necessarily have "stopped Hitler" at the time (the reason we talk about "stopping Hitler" is that Hitler wasn't stopped so we don't know who'd have taken his place and where that would have led the movement at the time).

But this is irrelevant because 2010s Germans aren't 1920s/1930s Germans. West Germany underwent a massive process of Denazification, we entered into and established ourselves in the European Union and Germans who grew up in post-war Germany are used to the idea that incitement is a crime and racial hatred has no place in a civilised society.

It's irrelevant whether criminalising incitement ("censorship") would have stopped Hitler in the 1930s because a single law doesn't instantly transform society. It's 2018 and this is not a new law. But we'll never be able to tell whether it stopped Hitler today because if we stopped him we won't know who he is because he'll never ascend to the same significance in history in the first place. It's a strawman.

You also seem to be under the false presumption that you having legal "freedom of speech" means you can express anything you want without consequences. As is being pointed out all the time, freedom of speech doesn't mean freedom from consequences, just freedom from direct legal consequences.

If you hold no significant political power and say something other people find disagreeable, you will be called out at best and ostracized at worst. In fact, freedom of speech might actually help those seeking to harm you because they have the righteous fury on their side.

If you hold significant power, there are plenty of examples in US politics how that usually works out (though time will tell how it works out for Trump in particular).

Fun side effect: dehumanising people also makes it easier to justify war. The US has been in a perpetual state of war since WW2. Do you even remember how to recognise propaganda and war rhetoric if it's been part of the mainstream since before you were born?


If you think anything is worth defending at all cost, that should give you pause.

You seem to understand that speech can persuade people of wrong things. Do you think it's possible you've been wrongly persuaded to hold the belief that free speech trumps all?

Maybe the same people that persuade you that you need free speech above all are also those that have the most to gain from being able to persuade you freely of whatever they want?

If you think incitement should not be a crime and likely think libel and slander should not be a crime, where do you draw the line if fee speech trumps all? What about lying under oath?

I'm going to guess (based on your name and the demographics of HN) you're American. Your nation's history is entirely written by itself and its only revolution was a secession which it was able to defeat.

Maybe your country just hasn't learned the lesson Germany has?

Just a thought: https://thenib.com/the-good-war


> If you think incitement should not be a crime and likely think libel and slander should not be a crime, where do you draw the line if fee speech trumps all? What about lying under oath?

I don't think libel and slander should not be crimes, I don't think lying under oath should not be a crime. I believe in freedom of expression.

I especially encourage those people with the absolute worst most harmful ideas to speak often and loudly and publicly, so that everyone has a chance to hear their ideas and think about them and come to understand for themselves how bad they are.

Freedom of expression means I can sit back and let Westboro Baptist Church explain to everyone what terrible people they are much more eloquently than I could ever hope to do. Neo Nazis, please, have a rally and explain to everyone in your own words that you latch onto pathetic ideas of racial superiority for lack of any accomplishments of your own to be proud of.

Why do you want to restrict freedom of expression? Do you find it hard to refute somebody's argument? Do you not trust people to sort out good ideas from bad themselves? The solution to bad speech is more speech. I thought we'd settled this decades ago.


That is more properly a value, than a belief. You can say that literally anything is a belief, but then you've got a useless Godelian argument.

I think we're in agreement then.

There's a distinction between "shitposting" (or smack/trash talk) and actual hate speech. The lines can be blurry and I think Poe's law can lead to miscommunication in both directions, e.g.

* person A might say something outlandishly racist thinking it's obvious they can't be serious

* but person B actually thinks that's something perfectly reasonably to say and agrees

* which person A in turn misunderstands to mean person B is in on the joke

* 30 minutes later person A is wearing a Klansman hood in front of a burning cross and wondering how they ended up in that situation as it dawns on them they're surrounded by actual racists

I think this is how a lot of Internet trolls felt after the US elections. Some trolls just wanted to see the world burn (so Trump is the gift that keeps on giving) but many simply didn't think Trump could win (because surely people would just go for the unlikeable but safe establishment candidate rather than the obviously outrageous joke candidate).

The problem with maintaining that distinction in the digital age however is that it's very hard to tell apart the satire from the real thing. The joke works because the audience is in on it (e.g. rape jokes work because the audience and the joke teller have a mutual understanding that rape is horrible and joking about it is inappropriate -- the inappropriateness is what makes it funny) but the Internet is not the social equivalent of two friends talking smack in a pub or a comedian talking on stage in a comedy club, it's the equivalent of random people writing on a public wall or shouting in a massive crowd of strangers.

When talking to friends there's a mutual understanding of what is or isn't appropriate. There are numerous social cues that can indicate something deadpan is still meant as a joke. Even an actual misunderstanding may still come around as a funny story.

In a comedy club the environment sets the expectation. If the guy on stage calls to arms and rallies the crowd to overthrow the government the context makes it clear this isn't a serious attempt at rebellion but more likely a build up to some kind of punchline.

But on the Internet all that context is lost. Even a conversation between friends can still likely viewed by thousands or millions of other people, so the words stand on their own.

It's obviously still important to have these private exchanges but it's also obviously not appropriate to have them in public spaces where every passer-by might become a participant.


For those of you who read German the following article sheds a revealing perspective on the effects of these new laws:

https://motherboard.vice.com/de/article/kznxz3/vom-netzdg-zu...

The leading paragraph claims that "Trolls and right-wing activists conspire through pr0gramm, Discord and Twitter to 'turn the law against hate speech' into its opposite: a tool to denounce left-wingers, women and migrants."

In other words, the opposite of "hate speech" is "left-wingers, women and migrants" according to the writer of this article. This shows the incredible myopia of these activists who have been warned time and again that those same censorship laws they were pressing for and sponsoring could and would be turned around to target their own political platforms. Unfortunately they did not listen, often because they blocked or banned those who spoke out against censorship as racists, xenophobes and more.


Amen...and that's how Bismark's Prussian super government whose bureaucratic super machine was the pride and glory of the Germans turned into Hitler's nefarious totalitarian regime more or less overnight. The same tools that ensure 'order and safety' become tools for 'suppression and conformity'. You would think the Germans, if any, would have learnt what totalitarianism feels like. But no, all they learned is that they just did not have the right totalitarian tools in the first place. It must be a cultural/mentality thing. Those who feel quite uncomfortable under such a system historically leave and tend to end up in... the US.

This shows the incredible myopia of these activists

Or they knew that perfectly well but considered it a small problem relative to the harm they seek to prevent. Everything comes with a downside risk, but pointing out the fact of its existence tells you little about the scale of its severity..


A couple weeks ago there was this piece on leading German newspaper FAZ showing where censorship-by-law of "hate speech" will lead to (reposting it here).

[1]: http://blogs.faz.net/deus/2017/12/18/erdogans-mob-und-gruene.... (in German)

[2]: https://translate.googleusercontent.com/translate_c?depth=1&....


This just in:

[1]: http://www.faz.net/aktuell/gesellschaft/menschen/deutschland... (in German)

Links to Google's translation service appear broken for me, though.


This is terrible, that censorship is a law in such big European country.

Soon coming to France, although there it's about fighting "fake news".

In india you get arrested for social media post if its against political figures and encourages hate

And imagine this spreads to the rest of the EU because Germany is the role model for all others and we need to harmonize the laws and repress anyone that feels like not liking this european (german) culture and way of thinking.

Just like the increase in migrant crimes has "real world consequences" in Germany, including citizens voicing their opinions online, causing the "government" to pass a law to outlaw just that...

Whats their next research paper about? Water is indeed wet?


This seems so ironic. The law seeks to limit disparagement of minorities by painting a minority with a broad brush and not allowing them to have a voice.



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