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German government is forcing censorship upon Facebook

German government have revealed that they are planning to introduce new tough regulations, imposing censorship on mainstream social media platforms. These measures are being designed specifically to tackle so called "hate speech" and "fake news". This may sound like a reasonable measure at first glance. Inciting hatred against a particular group of people or deliberately misleading the public are both potentially destructive acts. However, because this change is happening in Germany, there is a reason to worry.

It is not controversial when someone gets prosecuted for genuinely motivating people to attack members of certain demographic group for no other reason than their differences. However, there were some recent occasions in Germany when people were prosecuted under the hate speech laws for nothing more than rationally critisising German chancellor's policy of allowing, and even promoting, unrestricted immigration into the country. Fake news is something that people were always vaguely aware about, but didn't care much until the election of Donald Trump as the US president. Since then, it was used as a convenient justification for his election by his opponents, despite the fact there are some other more simpler explanations that justify the outcome better. For example, his proposed policies happened to cater better for middle class and skilled working class than those of his opponent's. Likewise, the fact that Donald Trump has shown himself to be politically incorrect was a vote magnet, as the silent majority in the US was getting tired of enforced political correctness that was being slowly imposed on them by a vocal activist minority.

The reason why German government is so concerned about fake news is because the ruling party is steadily losing its popularity, especially after events such as New Year's Eve of 2016 in Cologne and the bombing of Berlin Christmas market, both of which were directly caused by recent governments decision to sacrifice the country's security for "humanitarian" reasons. As German general election is due soon, the government is likely to be looking for every possible justification of their low approval rating other than genuine public dissatisfaction.

Because of these announcement, Facebook has decided to make it easier for its users in Germany to flag posts as either "hate speech" or "fake news". In the former case, posts are likely to be removed. In the latter case, the flagged news articles would be sent to an independent fact-checking agency Correctiv. If the information in the articles would be found to be false, the articles would be marked as "disputed" and rank lower in the search results. Whether this is a good news or bad depends entirely on intentions of Correctiv. If the organisation is indeed determined to provide unbiased fact-checking service, then this would make life of Facebook users easier. However, if the organisation is politically-motivated, then it would probably give "disputed" label to any articles containing undesired, rather than inaccurate, information. If this would be the case, then it is bad news for the West indeed, as this would be a reliable indicator that democratic governments are becoming more totalitarian.

Executives of Facebook have stated that they are not very keen to accept responsibility for its users' behaviour. However, German government thinks otherwise. A seniour German MP, Volker Kauder, has stated the following: "a big auto manufacturer that produces millions of cars can't say: 'I produce so many cars that I can't guarantee they are all secure.' No, that is not on. I expect and demand from Facebook that laws are upheld.". Obviously, the fault in this logic is that for Facebook to take full responsibility for its users' behaviour would be much more similar to an auto manufacturers taking responsibility for speeding by drivers of its cars. However, there is nothing that Facebook, as a business, can do except to comply, if it still wants to have its business in Germany.

Many web visitors have noticed that, over time, mainstream social media platforms are slowly becoming less friendly to free speech. This observation is correct; however it's not always the providers of the social media platforms that are to blame. Sometimes, they are forced to introduce more restrictive rules due to more restrictive laws being written by various governments that they, as business entities, are forced to comply with.

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Posted on 18 Jan 2017

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