How to combat hate on the web?

Germany's new Network Enforcement Act that obliges social media to block "clearly illicit content" came into force at the start of the year. France's President Emmanuel Macron has also announced a new law that would force media platforms to be more transparent about the people controlling them and sponsors of content.

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Le Figaro (FR) /

Facebook must be treated like any newspaper

At last the same rules apply for traditional media and social networks, Le Figaro writes in delight:

“The inequality between the obligations borne by the traditional media and the Internet giants is blatantly obvious. ... By virtue of the famous law [on the French press] of 1881, press organs are legally responsible for articles they publish. ... All those subject to the law who believe their rights have been violated by an article published in a daily or weekly newspaper can sue the director of the publication (in his capacity as author) and the journalist (as an accomplice). ... It is right to subject the Internet giants, the social networks and the digital platforms to the principles laid out in the press law of 1881.”

Deutsche Welle (RO) /

Censorship is the wrong approach

The German Network Enforcement Act is half-baked, the Romanian service of German broadcaster Deutsch Welle complains:

“Frightened by Brexit, by Trump's election and the dizzying rise of populism in Europe, the Berlin elite has decided to pass measures that are more about political self-defence than fighting hate. This hate indeed needs to be combated. Not, however, through censorship but through education, information, analysis and laws. The parties of the grand coalition seem frightened by their own incompetence when it comes to offering an alternative to populist propaganda.”

Jyllands-Posten (DK) /

Democracy also gives base ideas space

Legislation against hate on the Internet of the kind introduced in Germany and planned in France will only backfire, Jyllands Posten predicts:

“The answer to dangerous or fake opinions cannot be to introduce something that looks very much like censorship. There is no indication that hate-filled statements lead to more violence or social unrest. On the contrary, they allow society to let off steam. One of democracy's basic traits is that it allows space for even the most idiotic, base and politically incorrect opinions. Because a free and open debate in which arguments meet counterarguments is the prerequisite for a healthy democracy.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

Well-meant is not always well-executed

The decision about which opinions can be expressed and which can't must not be left to the social networks, NRC Handelsblad warns:

“The German Network Enforcement Act is a perfect example of how difficult it can be to translate good intentions into effective legislation. And it gets even more complicated because the law affects major American technology companies like Facebook and Twitter. Disguised as anonymous giants, they duck out of all responsibility for content. These private parties are not suited to playing the role of a censor, and consequently the cure is worse than the illness. German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and SPD leader Martin Schulz should incorporate the law into their coalition talks and quickly repair it.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

The social media have failed

The Süddeutsche Zeitung names those chiefly responsible for the introduction of Germany's Network Enforcement Act:

“It's the social networks themselves. For the past ten years Facebook, Twitter et al. have already been obliged to remove illegal content from their platforms by the Telemedia Act. But - despite a huge increase in the number of punishable content and much urging by the justice minister - they have shirked their responsibility in an almost brazen way. The Network Enforcement Act does not define new offences, it's simply meant to help with the enforcement of laws that already apply (as implied by its name).”

Le Temps (CH) /

Not just the media's concern

The fight against fake news concerns far more people than just journalists, France correspondent Richard Werly comments in Le Temps:

“Speaking to journalists on an equal footing [in his New Year's address] Macron asked a telling question: how can democracy be bolstered against the negative impact of the Internet? Quite apart from journalists, this question also concerns teachers, activists, civil servants and, of course, politicians. And it must induce states to make industry and online platforms assume more responsibility. Legislation is just one instrument. ... Aside from that, what is needed is mobilisation, awareness, and help conceiving new forms of control, punishment and legal recourse - so that we are not left at the mercy of the fake news epidemic.”

Le Point (FR) /

Government can't stipulate rules for journalists

It is important to have clear rules governing the relations between the media and politicians, Le Point concurs, but warns that it's not up to the government to define them:

“Journalists are accused of so many things: for some they're the lackeys of the government, for others they're conspirators against the regime. ... But is it the task of the state to define the conditions for professional journalists? Would journalism still be journalism if it only heeded official statements? ... A code of ethics is desirable, necessary even. But it must not be stipulated by the government.”