The new federal government requires the platform to process judicial requests to remove dangerous content for encouraging hatred
Privacy has turned the application into the refuge from where far-right and anti-vaccine activists are organizing attacks and mobilizations
On August 29, 2020 Germany he was about to relive a tragic image. In full management to send the pandemic of covidUp to 38,000 people protested in Berlin against masks and other restrictions set by the government. At the end of the march, a few hundred far right met with flags of the former German empire and attempted to storm the Reichstag, the parliamentary building that the nazis burned in 1933 to bury democracy in the country. A few hours earlier, those militants hung photos of their weapons on Telegram asking to launch a “storm” on the capital.
This Wednesday, the police and the special forces launched a raid against members of an anti-vaccine group that he was plotting, also in the messaging app, a plan to assassinate the prime minister of the state of Saxony, Michael Kretschmer, for applying new measures against the coronavirus. “Enter where the guy is and hang him up,” they said.
Telegram has become the favorite haven for all kinds of radical groups. In a digital environment increasingly concerned with the extraction of data of users, the platform has managed to position itself as one of the messaging applications that most respect privacy thanks to the encryption of your communications. However, this has also served to shelter those who use it to spread conspiracies and plan actions ranging from protest to armed insurrection or criminal organization. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the internal secret services, have been tracking these threats for months.
Strong hand against Telegram
It is in this scenario that the first German government of the era after Merkel, made up of social democrats, environmentalists and liberals, seeks to harden its position. “What Telegram spreads is partly indecent and often also criminal,” the new Justice Minister denounced this Tuesday. Marco Buschmann. That is why, supported by politicians from all over the country, the Executive is considering applying restrictions against the app and it does not rule out an eventual ban on certain services.
Germany has one of the toughest regulations in the world against the spread of hate speech online. Since October 1, 2017, the Network Enforcement Law (NetzDG) gives companies social networks 24 hours to remove or block content reported as dangerous from a criminal point of view, be it insults, defamation or threats and forces them to inform the police of these infractions. Otherwise, platforms such as Facebook, Twitter The TikTok they face fines that can reach 50 million euros.
Telegram has avoided that regulation because it defines itself as a messaging application, not a social network. Now, the German authorities point out that it operates as a platform, so it must abide by the law in the same way. This new categorization is supported by the three legs of the Executive. Although Telegram deletes the channels used by organizations terrorists What Islamic State The Al-Qaeda when there are demands for justice, it has not done the same with extreme right-wing groups. Berlin has requested information to identify the perpetrators of extremist content, but the platform, founded in St. Petersburg and now based in Dubai, is not responding to the requests.
Faced with this situation, Minister Buschmann has called for “creating a common European legal framework to act against hatred and agitation in internet“, in reference to the Digital Services Law being prepared by Brussels. Others propose more expeditious ways. Lower Saxony’s Interior Minister, Boris Pistorius, has proposed to negotiate with Apple Y Google so that they stop allowing the download of Telegram. The Bavarian conservatives of the CSU have put on the table to block the app if it does not moderate hateful content, a decision that experts say could be unconstitutional.
Germany is thus once again in the middle of a complex and fragile debate on how states can pressure social networks to limit the proliferation of hatred without ending up trampling on basic freedoms. The problem is clear, the solution not so much.