In a coordinated campaign across 14 states, German police have raided the homes of 36 people accused of hateful postings over social media, including threats, coercion and incitement to racism.
Most of the raids concerned politically motivated right-wing incitement, according to the Federal Criminal Police Office, whose officers conducted home searches and interrogations. But the raids also targeted two people accused of left-wing extremist content, as well as one person accused of making threats or harassment based on someone's sexual orientation.
"The still high incidence of punishable hate posting shows a need for police action," Holger Muench, president of the Federal Criminal Police Office, said in a statement. "Our free society must not allow a climate of fear, threat, criminal violence and violence either on the street or on the internet."
The raids come as Germans are debating the draft of a new social media law aimed at cracking down on hate speech, a measure that an array of experts said was unconstitutional at a parliamentary hearing this week.
The measure, championed by Justice Minister Heiko Maas for passage this month, would fine Facebook, Twitter and other outlets up to $73 million (50 million euros) if they failed to remove hate speech and other forms of illegal content.
Under German law, social media users are subject to a range of punishments for posting illegal material, including a prison sentence of up to five years for inciting racial hatred.
Under the draft statute, networks must offer a readily available complaint process for posts that may amount to threats, hate speech, defamation or incitement to commit a crime, among other offences.
Social media outlets would have 24 hours to delete "obviously criminal content" and a week to decide on more ambiguous cases.
According to a recent government study, Facebook deleted just 39 per cent of illegal hate speech within 24 hours in January and February, despite signing a code of conduct in 2015 pledging to meet this standard. Twitter deleted just 1 per cent.
"We are disappointed by the results," Klaus Gorny, a Facebook spokesman, said in a statement this year regarding the study. "We have clear rules against hate speech and work hard to keep it off our platform."
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