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Germany Considers Suing Facebook Over Users' Racist Posts

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on October 04, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In the United States, social networking websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Yahoo Answers generally can't be held liable for the content user's post online. Responsibility for defamatory posts, infringing media, or crazy rantings generally falls on the poster's shoulders, not on the platform that hosts the content.

That's not the case in other countries, however, where websites may have greater responsibility for user's content. Case in point: German prosecutors are currently considering whether to force Facebook to take a more active hand in ensuring its user content complies with the country's anti-hate speech laws by removing users racist and threatening posts.

CDA: The (Accidental) American Way

Here in God's Country, Facebook would be protected from such action by the Communication's Decency Act. Section 230 of that act protects websites like Facebook from liability for user content.

But the CDA has an interesting backstory; it's the free speech law that was never meant to be, the sword that's become a shield.

The CDA was first passed as an internet censorship law, intended to criminalize the transmission of obscene content online, everything from porn to "excretory activities."

But in exchange for limiting internet users' speech, it created a liability shield for online intermediaries like community forums, email services, and social media websites.

The CDA's speech restrictions were struck down as an unconstitutional restriction on free speech, but the shield remained.

Going After the Hosts

That approach to regulating internet content hasn't been adopted worldwide and prosecutors in Germany are now considering whether to take action against Facebook over the content of its users. The move comes after a German technology law firm filed a complaint alleging that Facebook was in violation of the nation's hate speech, sedition, and anti-terrorism laws, according to Reuters.

The German attorney Chan-jo Jun is looking to have Facebook compelled to comply with those laws by removing offensive posts. Jun has collected over 400 postings, Reuters said, ranging from political rants to "clear examples of racist hate speech and calls to violence laced with references to Nazi-era genocide."

Facebook claims that such speech is already prohibited on its service and that the claims against it have no merit. Such claims "have repeatedly been rejected," according to the social networking company.

But such lawsuits don't seem to be letting up. Facebook is already facing at least three lawsuits claiming that it provides material support for terrorism by allowing terrorist groups to organize online. One of the most recent claim against it, filed this summer, seeks $1 billion in damages stemming from Hamas's use of the website.

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