German Crackdown on Online Speech Shows Perils of Eroding First Amendment

Americans are often alarmed at online hate speech and misinformation. They dislike the First Amendment’s restrictions on government intervention in regards to objectionable content. These constraints are not imposed on German authorities, which should be troubling for critics who sympathize with the notion that American freedom of speech is too broad. You can see the full article here. New York TimesToday’s story shows that the German government continues to crack down on hate speech, insults, and misinformation. As such, political dissenters have been subject to criminal prosecutions for speaking out against the authorities.

An apocryphal statement attributed to Green Party politician Margarete Bouse is the subject of this article. Bause claimed that “just because somebody rapes, steals or is a severe criminal” does not justify deportation.

Unnamed 51-year old man posted the “fake comment” on Facebook. Police searched his home for half an hours and took a computer and tablet as evidence. The fine he faces is approximately $1,400. Prosecutors stated that even if the accuser didn’t realize it was false, the accused is at risk of spreading a false statement without verifying it.

Bause tells Bause that this penalty is the TimesIt was “a warning shot that they cannot just accuse or hurt people with impunity.” Svenja Meininghaus was a prosecutor involved in this case. He says, “There must be a limit you can’t cross.” There must be consequences.

Facebook user had his home raided on March 1st. This was “part of a larger nationwide crackdown which continues until today.” Police and prosecutors believe they’re deterring potentially deadly speech. Their crusade was partly inspired by a neo-Nazi’s June 2019 assassination of Walter Lübcke, a local politician who “became a regular target of online abuse after a 2015 video of him had circulated in far-right circles.” In that video, Lübcke “suggested to a local audience that anyone who did not support taking in refugees could leave Germany themselves.”

Violent speech is clearly unacceptable in any form, including murder. The German government decided to make any speech which might incite violence unacceptable. Since criminal laws are ultimately enforced at the point of a gun, the government has thereby authorized violence in response to speech—the very evil it supposedly is fighting.

The United States allows speech restrictions to be justified only when there are clearly defined situations, like “true threats” or incitement to imminent lawlessness. The “fighting word” exception was a potentially wider one. It originally covered words that “by their very nature inflict damage” and speech that “incites an instant breach of peace”. The Supreme Court narrowed that doctrine after it was first announced in 1942. Many critics believe it no longer has any validity to support a criminal conviction.

Germany’s speech protections are significantly less. For example, the government treats Holocaust denial as a crime and displays of Nazi imagery, while it also prohibits any “incitation to hatred”. Public insults and malicious gossip are also crimes.

A case in which a Twitter user insulted Andy Grote, Hamburg’s official charged with violating the social distancing rules that were inspired by the pandemic was a great example of this. Grote was charged with hosting “a small election party at a downtown bar.” Grote tweetedConcerning the necessity of responsible behavior in order to avoid the return to lockdowns the critic said:du bist so 1 Pimmel“—”you are such a dick.”

This succinct reply three months later prompted an early morning police raid which, in turn, provoked a backlash known as Pimmelgate. “Activists made stickers with the Tweet remark, and put them on the streets of Hamburg. The police had to take them down,” said the report. Times notes. “Then, activists created a mural that contained the phrase and forced police to redecorate it multiple times.”

This case raised concerns about illegal speech being too broadly defined, giving local police and prosecutors too little discretion in enforcement. Police raided Alexander Mai’s home after he got in a fight with Andreas Jurca, a local far-right politician, to show that they were serious. Mai was convicted of a crime. He posted a link to an image of himself in response to Jurca’s message “criticizing Muslims”.du bist so 1 Pimmel” mural.

Mai believes that the raid was motivated by Mai’s climate activism. The breadth and depth of Germany’s speech restriction is a invitation to any police officer or prosecutor who has a political or personal grudge. Contrary to progressives’ claims about “hate speech”, and “misinformation,” the victims aren’t necessarily wrong-thinking individuals promoting retrograde ideas.

German officials also claim that they are promoting freedom and speech through making it easier for people to post messages. Josephine Ballon is the legal director of HateAid in Berlin, which “provides legal assistance for victims online abuse.” She thinks this makes sense. Due to trolling and ad-hominem attacks she told the TimesAccording to this report, people are withdrawing from political debates more frequently and they don’t want to voice their opinions.

What happens when government punishes those who make comments it considers offensive, hateful or misleading? These actions are not like “online abuse”, and they can be backed up by legally authorized force. It is more likely that this will have a chilling effect.

An ex-official of the Justice Ministry tells The, “You cannot prosecute everyone.” TimesIt will, however, have an important effect only if it is proven that prosecutions are possible. It is precisely this problem.