Germany Toughens Laws Against Online ‘Hate Speech’

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment protects hateful speech, but European countries, with less robust protection of speech rights, have taken a different view of the legality of “hate speech.”

German lawmakers passed legislation today that fines social-media companies up to $57 million if they fail to quickly delete hate speech, libel and other illegal content.

“Large social networks such as Facebook and Twitter will be required to delete ‘clearly illegal’ content within 24 hours, while having the ability to set up an industry self-regulating body for processing borderline cases within one week,” The Wall Street Journal reports.

Many Americans are unaware that the First Amendment protects hateful speech. A recent local example: When a St. Petersburg resident posted hateful signs in his yard, a Tampa Bay Times reporter raised the question of whether the signs violated ordinances against hate speech. “City officials declined to comment on whether the signs violated any standards for hate speech,” wrote Times staff writer Taylor Telford.

But as AliveTampaBay reported, if there are any such “standards” on the books in St. Petersburg, such ordinances would be struck down as unconstitutional.

In our reporting, we quoted James B. Lake, a partner at the Tampa-based law firm Thomas and LoCicero and an adjunct professor at Stetson University College of Law. He said, “The U.S. Supreme Court in 2011 said the First Amendment protected equally hateful speech protesting a Marine’s funeral. That principle applies equally or with even greater force here, where the speech is posted on the speaker’s private property.”

First Amendment protection for all speech — with few exceptions — remains one of the major cultural and legal differences between Europe and the United States.

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