Act to Improve Enforcement of the Law in Social Networks (Network Enforcement Act, NetzDG) - Basic Information
The new law aims to fight hate crime, criminally punishable fake news and other unlawful content on social networks more effectively. This includes insult, malicious gossip, defamation, public incitement to crime, incitement to hatred, disseminating portrayals of violence and threatening the commission of a felony.
I. Effective complaints management
The new law defines binding standards for effective and transparent complaints management. The operators of social networks will be subject to the following obligations:
- They must offer users an easily recognisable, directly accessible and permanently available procedure for reporting criminally punishable content.
- They must immediately take notice of content reported to them by users and examine whether that content might violate criminal law.
- They must take down or block access to manifestly unlawful content within 24 hours of receiving a complaint.
- Other criminal content must generally be taken down or blocked within 7 days of receiving a complaint. Alternatively, social networks may refer the content concerned to a "recognised institution of regulated self-governance" on the understanding that they will accept the decision of that institution. The institution must then also make its decision on whether the content is unlawful within 7 days.
- They must inform users of all decisions taken in response to their complaints and provide justification.
II. Reporting obligation
The operators of social networks are obliged to submit biannual reports on their handling of complaints about criminally punishable content. These reports must contain information, for example, on the volume of complaints and the decision-making practices of the network, as well as about the teams responsible for processing reported content. They must be made available to everybody on the Internet.
Social networks that fail to set up a complaints management system or do not set one up properly – especially where this means that they do not delete criminal content in full, on time or at all – are committing a regulatory offence. This is punishable with a fine of up to 5 million euros against the person responsible for the complaints management system. The fine against the company itself can be up to 50 million euros. A fine can also be imposed if the social network does not comply with its reporting duties in full or at all.
IV. Person authorised to receive service
To ensure that the law is enforced more effectively, social networks will be obliged – regardless of where they are based – to name a person in Germany who is authorised to receive service of process in regulatory fine and civil proceedings, and publish details of this person on their website. Social networks must also name a person in Germany authorised to receive information requests from law enforcement authorities. Moreover, networks will have to ensure that they can respond swiftly to these requests. Violations of the duty to name a person authorised to receive service or information requests can also result in a fine.
V. Right to disclosure
Anyone whose general personality rights are violated by the criminal offences covered by the new act will, as a rule, be able to demand that the social network concerned disclose details of who committed the offence. Such entitlement to information is founded in existing general principles of civil law. With the new legislation, we are ensuring that these entitlements can actually be asserted. Operators of social networks will be given the power under data protection law to disclose the subscriber information of the infringer to the injured party. In order to do so, however, the social network must have been ordered to disclose this data by a civil court with jurisdiction over the matter (judicial scrutiny reservation).
The new law will enter into force on 1 October 2017. The complaints procedure must be introduced three months after the act has entered into force.