Beginning on January 1st of this new year, Germany’s new hate speech laws have gone into effect and are now being enforced. The new laws are dubbed Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz, and even for someone a little bit familiar with the German language, I still have to slog through that word at a slow pace. Let’s just call it the short word of NetzDG. NetzDG threatens social networks and media companies that have more than 2 million users with a $60 million equivalent fine if posts contain hate speech or fake news. Germany gave the companies a year to prepare and put systems in place to combat such posts.
Nobody likes hate speech – well, except for those tiny few who actually use it, and nobody likes to read fake news – unless it’s for entrainment purposes. However, do we really want governments to fulfill the role of protector against our precious eyes and ears? Do we really want to place our trust in such an inefficient entity with often politically-charged goals to decide what we can see and hear? Do we trust politicians who simply want more power to dub what is considered hate speech or fake news?
To be fair, in Germany’s case, most people would easily recognize and understand the historical context that provides for their fear of hate speech. Now that the German National Democratic Party and other such neo-Nazi groups are allowed to operate openly within its borders, the majority of Germans are still very aware of where that ideology leads. The majority of Germans are very fearful of repeating the past. However, it is rather ironic that they are deploying some of the same tactics the Nazis used to silence opposition in the early days of the Nazi regime. Level-headed political speech against the Nazi regime, of course, has the moral high ground to hate-filled neo-Nazi nonsense, but it is still a restriction of free speech to ban people from saying idiotic things.
History tells us that Antifa has never had the right idea in stopping fascism. Their tactics of trying to brawl with Nazis didn’t seem to do much to stop them from trying to take over the world in the second World War, and it isn’t going to do much to stop fascist racists from shouting out their hatred today. In fact, it only serves to give them a larger platform, and the Antifa side isn’t much better. Supporting authoritarianism is really the same no matter what the branding, be it communism or fascism. Shouting at fascists and threatening them with violence at public gatherings is not going to stop any movement. Attempting to restrict speech only makes it a greater curiosity. People have always wanted to know more about things that are banned. It is human nature that if something is banned people want a better understanding of why it should be banned. So, the movement gains more converts, from the people who just like to stir pots for attention if nothing else.
The best way to fight a disgusting ideology is through open discourse. By not restricting speech at all, people lose interest in silly things that don’t make sense. It’s like walking past the naked singing cowboy in New York and just thinking, “well, that was weird.” When undo attention is not shone as a spotlight on ridiculous notions, then they tend to be more likely to die and fade away. When racist fascists have free reign to espouse their beliefs, people don’t have to guess at the belief system and they tend to recognize it for the absurdity that it is.
As for fake news, how does one define it? Individuals would define it as an untrue story that someone simply made up. However, a politically motivated government tends to make fake news out of anything with an opposing ideological bias. Governments, who usually have too much power, will determine fake news to be anything that opposes whichever party is in charge at the time.
If anyone reporting news is human at all, it’s nearly impossible to deliver the news without at least some bias. We humans see everything through the lens of our experiences and opinions, and there is no way to avoid it. The only way to properly report the news is to allow all news to be printed or displayed. What defines fake news must be up to the individuals who are reading. Individuals can select their own trusted sources of news. Yes, many people will believe untrustworthy sources, and most people will gravitate to the news that suits their belief systems, but it’s the only way the full spectrum of ideas can be available to all.
This is not even remotely a uniquely German issue. No nation is immune to assaults against free speech. All over the world, people are trying to restrict speech to eliminate hatred and false news. It’s all very well-intentioned, but it causes more problems than it resolves. We are all better served to simply ignore the things that offend us for the sake of the things that are true. If you are willing to restrict the ugly things from your precious eyes and ears, then you must also be willing to restrict the things you strongly support and believe are the best for yourself and for society. Free speech is more precious than offensive speech, and it’s well worth persevering free speech above nonsense. The only way to do so is to avoid restricting speech at all. Otherwise, acceptable speech becomes defined as whatever whims of government that exist under whatever ideology it currently contains.
Featured image: Zora Rothe/ddp
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