Twitter Users Are Registering in Germany to Clear Their Feeds of Hate Speech

Fed up with racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic rhetoric on Twitter, some users in America are changing their location settings to Germany, where hate-speech laws are much more stringent.

Germany banned hate speech against ethnics group after the Holocaust. In 2017, the Network Enforcement Act amended that ban to include social media. Now, companies like Twitter can be fined €50 million (about $56 million) if they fail to remove hateful speech within 24 hours of it being reported—or in less clear cases, within a week.

Social media platforms are also required to publish a twice-yearly report of complaints: In February, Facebook was fined €2 million ($2.2 million) for posting an incomplete report.

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Twitter is being criticized for not doing enough to stem hate speech. Getty Images

German laws are much more strict than in ones in the U.S. where Twitter seems loathe to ban offensive users: After years of tweeting racist and homophobic conspiracy theories, Alex Jones was finally banned from Twitter in September 2018. But that may have had more to do with Jones causing a scene outside a congressional hearing where Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was testifying about content moderation.

"He yelled at Dorsey at one point as he was trying to leave the building," The Washington Post's Tony Romm told NPR's Morning Edition. "And then he livestreamed an incident where he was attacking a CNN reporter, hurling verbal insults on him... on Periscope, which is the livestreaming site owned by Twitter."

Getting Twitter to go after a run-of-the-mill white power tweet is a bit harder.

The platform's "hateful conduct policy" states that "repeated and/or non-consensual slurs, epithets, racist and sexist tropes, or other content that degrades someone" is prohibited. Additionally users may not "promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease."

But critics complain that, more often than not, it's people posting anti-racist tweets who are targeted.

"People are being taken down who are protesting racism and people are staying up who are wildly racist and organizing racist rallies using social media and using Twitter, in particular," Jessica Gonzalez of Free Press, a nonprofit promoting diversity in media, told Gizmodo. "Twitter needs to do a wholesale reform of its content moderation policy. We can't have this happen piecemeal. It's offensive that they're not going head-on after white supremacy."

Twitter has faced criticism for putting the burden on users rather than being proactive.

"A lot of the calls for 'remove the Nazis' are also due to the fact our enforcement operates on reporting," Dorsey told Rolling Stone in January. "A lot of people don't report. They see things, but it's easier to tweet out 'get rid of the Nazis' than to report it. We need to be more proactive, but a lot of it has to do with the friction of everything relying on it being reported in the first place."

Taking matters into their own hands, some American Twitter users are changing their location settings. Instead of an offending tweet, they get an error message that the post "has been withheld in [Germany] based on local laws."

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The error Twitter displays when a tweet flagged as hate speech appears to German people—or those who are just pretending to be German. Twitter

"Since [telling Twitter I'm in Germany], I've seen pretty much no nationalist content," Twitter user Carl Perez told CNBC.

Some ex-pats say they haven't seen a change, others say white nationalist accounts have disappeared from threads.

"One of the our interview subjects mentioned that ever since he changed location in his bio to Germany... he has not been harassed," read a October 2018 report commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League. "He suspected that due to stricter data rules in Germany, Twitter either wasn't showing him malicious tweets, or wasn't showing his tweets to anti-Semitic profiles."

"The later hypothesis is especially interesting," the report added, "in that it evades some constitutional rights issues, as the user is willfully limiting his own freedom of speech."

But ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt says it's not a workable solution.

"Users should not be forced to find creative workarounds to avoid hate and abuse online if, instead, there could be ways to customize a user experience to decrease their exposure to hate and decrease harassment," Greenblatt told Newsweek. "We recommend social media platforms including Twitter proactively implement measures to provide better filtering opportunities for all users, regardless of their location.".

He added that Twitter should be share data regarding users switching their location to avoid hate speech "so we can better understand users' behavior and attitude when faced with such awful content."

If you want to change your location on Twitter, you have to do a bit more than edit the "location" section in the "Edit Profile" dialogue: You'll need to click the "More" button on the left-hand sidebar, then "Settings and Privacy." Under the "Account" tab, in the "Data and permissions" section, there's a place to choose "Country."

Once there, you can can select whichever country you want from a dropdown menu.

Twitter Users Are Registering in Germany to Clear Their Feeds of Hate Speech | News