Topic 7: Can human dignity survive the internet?

70 years ago, a major leap of civilisation took place: Germany’s parliament adopted the Basic Law and enshrined in its first Article that human dignity shall be inviolable. In today’s poorly regulated world of online media, Article 1 is coming under constant threat. This is especially so in relation to the spread of hate speech, a clear violation of the Article when it comes to the offline world.

To combat this, the German parliament has passed a controversial law[1] making social media giants legally liable for hate speech that appears on their platforms. Is this essentially giving more powers of censorship to tech companies? Who should be responsible for keeping illegal content off the web? Does this set a precedent vulnerable to misappropriation by governments around the world that already impose limitations on press freedom?

Despite the legal intent of the new law, over- and under-censorship remains problematic. One approach that has emerged to address this is the Dangerous Speech project. This project advocates for a better-informed digital citizenry rather than legal censorship. What are the principles underpinning this approach and could it be more effective than legal censorship?

Background reading:

1. “Germany: Flawed Social Media Law” (8mins):

2. The ‘Dangerous Speech’ project FAQs (13 mins):

[1] The Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz (NetzDG) law, informally known as the ‘Facebook Law’

Online Meeting