Since the end of the Nazi regime, the German government has become especially sensitive to hate speech, for obvious reasons.
In an attempt to make sure history isn't repeated, they've created strict anti-hate-speech laws designed to protect minorities. Now, they'll have help from Google, Twitter and Facebook in their efforts to stop hate speech against Muslims, migrants and refugees from spreading online.
According to a report from the Washington Post, "In Germany, a person can face incitement charges for comments aimed at creating hostile feelings or triggering violence against a particular race, religion or ethnicity. To publicly endorse, play down or justify the crimes of the Nazi regime can be punished with up to five years in prison."
The same report explains German authorities have reached a deal with Facebook, Google and Twitter to "get tougher on offensive content," which will require those platforms to apply Germany's strict domestic laws about hate speech to content, rather than their own corporate policies, when reviewing posts for banned content.
Hate speech that does make it onto social media sites can be punished pretty harshly in Germany. The Washington Post reports that in October, a judge sentenced 26-year-old to "five months probation and a 300 euro fine after the man had posted on his Facebook page that refugees should 'burn alive' or 'drown' in the Mediterranean," and that in September, the home of another twenty-something was "raided by police, who confiscated his computer and phones after he had posted the tragic image of the dead 3-year-old Syrian boy whose body on a Turkish beach became a symbol of the refugee crisis" with the caption "We are not mourning, we are celebrating!”
Critics of these kinds of extreme measures against hate speech say the laws are harming free expression. Stefan Körner, the chairman of Germany’s liberal Pirate Party, condemned the German government's deal with Google, Facebook and Twitter, according to the Washington Post, saying that "surely it will lead to too many rather than too few comments being blocked. This is creeping censorship, and we definitely don’t want that."
But proponents of the laws point out that xenophobia directed toward the one million migrants and refugees who entered the country in 2015 is already causing serious harm -- the Washington Post reports that "Last year, German police reported 906 attacks against asylum seeker homes, ranging from arson to physical assaults. The figure amounts to more than a fourfold increase, compared with 2014 numbers."