BERLIN (AP) — Sharing threats made by someone else could soon become a punishable offense in Germany, after the government approved a bill Wednesday designed to crack down on hate speech and online extremism.
Following a regional politician’s slaying and an attack on a synagogue last year, German government ministers announced plans to require companies like Facebook and YouTube to report certain forms of hate speech to the police and to provide the users’ IP addresses. Firms already have to delete such posts.
Under the bill that won Cabinet backing, internet companies would have to report a wide range of hate speech to federal police. This includes posts containing far-right propaganda, graphic portrayals of violence, murder or rape threats, preparations for a terrorist attack and images of child sexual abuse.
The measures still require the approval of parliament. Facebook declined to comment on the bill.
The legislation endorsed Wednesday also would extend the definition of criminal hate speech to include threats of rape or property damage and expressing approval for serious crimes.
“Whoever threatens to kill people … isn’t expressing an opinion, he’s committing a crime,” Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht said.
The bill would make showing public support for crimes, including threats of harm to people or their homes, a punishable offense. In practice, retweeting hate speech to a wide audience, or explicitly condoning it on a public forum, could be subject to prosecution if the new measures become law.
Officials said it would be up to the courts to decide which posts or shares meet the threshold of “disturbing public peace.”
Jurists estimate the number of online hate speech cases in Germany each year to be in the six figures. Hundreds of additional police officers and prosecutors will be required to handle the workload.
Germany has seen a rise in far-right extremism and anti-Semitism in recent years that officials have blamed in part on a climate of hate thriving on social media. Crimes motivated by anti-Semitism have gone up 40% since 2013, according to the Justice Ministry.
The Cabinet also backed a measure that would make it easier for politicians, volunteers and journalists to prevent others from obtaining their home addresses from public registers.
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