Two weeks ago, the Federal Government adopted its long-awaited digital strategy. Among other things, it concretises a plan that has already been part of the coalition agreement: The “Law against digital violence” (Gesetz gegen digitale Gewalt) is intended to take more consistent action against online hate and incitement, especially in social networks. The law is intended to reduce “legal obstacles for those affected” and “gaps in the right to information”. In addition, “the legal framework for electronic procedures for reporting” is to be created and “account blocks ordered by a judge” are to be made possible. The latter in particular would shift the focus away from the platforms themselves to the victims of digital violence. In the future, courts could order Twitter and Co. to delete accounts that are accused to spread digital violence.

The DSA sees platforms as responsible for deleting illegal content

In Germany, the Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG), introduced in 2017, has so far served to combat hate crime and other punishable content online. Among other things, the NetzDG provides for specific deletion deadlines and reporting obligations of suspicious content to the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), which are currently suspended due to lawsuits filed by numerous platforms, such as Facebook, Google, YouTube and TikTok. According to the Federal Government’s answer to a small written question by the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, however, the NetzDG will largely be replaced by the Digital Services Act (DSA) due to its “fully harmonising effect”.

The DSA applies from 17 February 2024, but for particularly large platforms with more than 45 million users per month, some of the legal requirements formulated in it will come into effect earlier. According to the DSA, operators of social networks and platforms must offer extensive contact and complaint options to enable users to report insults and threats more directly and quickly. In contrast to the German NetzDG, the DSA does not provide for concrete deletion deadlines or reporting obligations to judicial and law enforcement authorities. The DSA also does not provide for account blocks ordered by a court. Instead of the courts, the DSA places the responsibility on the platforms themselves: Article 23(1), for example, states that online platform providers must “suspend the provision of their services to users who frequently and manifestly provide illegal content for a reasonable period of time after prior warning”. With the law against digital violence, the Federal Government is now planning to go beyond the DSA requirements, as it announced in an answer to a small written question by the CDU/CSU parliamentary group: The concern to enable account blocks ordered by a judge had not been taken into account in the DSA because its general orientation had “already been concluded before the publication of the coalition agreement”. The Federal Government therefore wants to examine “the extent to which judicially ordered account blocks can be implemented in national law.”

The traffic light coalition want to strengthen private legal enforcement

In contrast to the means available so far, such as criminal proceedings or the deletion of illegal content by the platforms themselves, the law against digital violence is intended to create an instrument that strengthens private law enforcement. In the future, victims of digital violence would have the right to quickly and effectively enforce the blocking of accounts from which digital violence emanates within the framework of civil law proceedings.

According to its digital strategy, by 2025 the Federal Government wants to be measured by whether “the law against digital violence and the corresponding counselling services offer effective support to those affected to defend themselves against digital violence”. After a comprehensive legal review, the Federal Ministry of Justice (BMJ), which is responsible for implementing the law, will soon prepare a first draft law. A position of potentially affected stakeholders on the Federal Government’s plan should therefore be taken now in order to be able to influence the political debate and the drafting process at an early stage.