The punishment for “hate speech” reminds solutions well known from totalitarian regimes.
German government wants to heighten media censorship. Solutions proposed by the Berlin government have already been used in the Stalinist Europe.
Government in Berlin wants to oblige Tweeter and Facebook to immediately respond to the so called “hate speech”. According to the project, social media should remove “suspicious” entry within 24 hours. The so called “hate speech”, already prohibited in Germany, would be used as a censorship criterion. Moreover, easy to use tools are to appear in the social media enabling a quick reporting of objections to the comments published. If the administrator does not respond to such a denunciation within 24 hours, he will face a penalty. Also, posts containing false information will be removed.
If administrators of social platforms do not comply with the new law, they will have to pay high penalties. Today, already up to 50,000 Euros fine could be paid for not removing an entry containing “hate speech”. It can be concluded that according to new project, the penalty will be even greater as originators of the changes want a “severe” punishment for “hate speech”. According to the head of the CDU parliamentary club, Volker Kauder, more strict regulations arise from the concerns about “fair Bundestag elections”.
Criteria as unclear as during the Stalinist era
Bringing in the ban on the use of “hate speech” to the Criminal Code resembles the practices of totalitarian countries, where the government wanted to control the spread of “word of mouth” opinions. At the beginning of the Stalinist era in Poland, on the 13th June 1946, a decree about particularly dangerous crimes during reconstruction of the country was introduced. The legal basis for repressing the “unorthodox” was the article 22, according to which one could face a detention or imprisonment for “spreading false news that could result in significant injury to the Polish State or lower the dignity of his supreme authorities”.
Obviously, it was the State that decided what was true or false, as well as what was “the significant injury suffered by interests of the State”. One of the basic features of Stalinist law was the “fuzziness of wording, which enabled authorities free interpretation of legal protection” (1).
There is no doubt that by striking at the social media, the German Government is trying to limit the freedom of expression.
This is similar to the case of “hate speech”. The enigmatic content of this concept allows including into this category any entry criticising Islam or Muslim impact on the European society, and finally protests against Islamization. The term “hate speech” can easily be used to gag all the people who do not share the official optimism (Angela Merkel’s “We can do it” ).
In the era of communism, critics were repressed for the so-called “word of mouth”, which was an expression of an opinion not approved by government, even if spoken in personal setting, for example at aunt’s birthday. Today, in the era of the Internet, conversations have switched from over-a-beer-conversations with friends into the Internet forums and the Facebook wall. There is no doubt that German Government by striking social at the media is aiming to limit the freedom of expression.
Less freedom in a good cause
When the communists introduced the aforementioned decree, they justified their action by the distinctive moment in history. Although the laws might seem restrictive, they stream from concerns about the interest of the state, which is in a period of “reconstruction”. Similar reasoning can be found in the explanations of German politicians who justify restrictions of freedom of speech by immigration crisis or Donald Trump’s successful electoral campaign .
No doubt, welcoming millions of immigrants is a significant moment in the German history, and the change of tenant in the White House clearly shows the demise of the political correctness. My guess is that the possibility of recurrence of the American scenario in Berlin is giving German elites sleepless nights. Introduction of restrictive laws reveals another similarity to the communist practices. Silencing the “hostile propaganda” was supposed to give the new system the upper hand, and in case of the contemporary German authorities, the punishment for “hate speech” is supposed to ensure the victory of the current coalition in the “fair” elections.
Soft totalitarianism of the Facebook era
Clearly, we cannot say that there are no differences between the actions of the authorities in Berlin and the communists. For instance authors of entries won’t face imprisonment. The authorities don’t need martyrs, they are willing to maintain the appearance of freedom. They will exert an economic preassure. Owners of social networking sites will be punished in order to force them to do a dirty job for the government. Let them remove posts, block users accounts, or limit the range of entries of those who express opinions contrary to the official version.
A soft totalitarianism is growing in front of our eyes, which does not imprison people for expressing their opinions, but creates conditions in which sharing our own thoughts with others becomes either impossible or there is no point in doing it. Before people would whisper a (non) political joke, today all it takes is to press the “share” button, but the essence of censorship and its freedom-restrictive nature have not changed.
- Diana Maksymiuk, Krótka historia długo obowiązującego dekretu, „Miscellanea Historico-Iuridica” 2010, t. IX