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It was in summer 2017, only a few months before the federal elections, when the German Department of Justice (DoJ) finally got the upper hand in an internal struggle within the German government over how to deal with “hate speech” and “fake news” online. There had been fears rising within political Berlin that foreign forces, such as Russia, could spread “fake news” via social media to meddle in the upcoming elections. In addition to this, the German right-wing populist party AfD was rapidly gaining momentum, and their supporters were also strongly relying on social media. AfD supporters used social networks to organize themselves, but also to intimidate political opponents. Being bullied and threatened via social networks had become an everyday experience for many politicians.

An alliance of hardline policymakers and left-wing politicians finally succeeded in pushing through the Network Enforcement Act—with the goal of countering the risk of foreign “fake news” campaigns, but also to hamper the rise of the far right in social media. There were objections from the opposition, but after a phase of heated discussions, the law was finally passed.

Social media companies now must suppress illegal content in their networks.

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