After threats of violence and death, German Environmental Aid wants to close Facebook groups. The judges also speak of “unspeakable violent fantasies.”
Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) initially failed with a lawsuit against the US internet giant Meta, the aim of which was to close two Facebook groups. The Berlin regional court has rejected a corresponding model lawsuit, DUH federal managing director Jürgen Resch told the German Press Agency. He announced that he would appeal the verdict and continue to fight for better protection against hatred and incitement on social media before the Berlin Court of Appeal.
The background is threats of violence and death in a public and a private Facebook group with more than 50,000 and around 12,000 members respectively. At Meta, commercial interests are in the foreground, explained Resch. He called on Federal Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP) to issue legal regulations against Facebook and other social media.
Judge: “unspeakable violent fantasies”
According to Resch, he and DUH employees have been experiencing massive hostility and insults for years, which have now culminated in calls for violence and violent fantasies. During the oral hearing, the court spoke of “unspeakable violent fantasies.”
At the same time, the presiding judge Holger Thiel made it clear from the start that the lawsuit had little chance. The current legal basis is not sufficient for this, said Thiel, repeating the chamber’s initial assessment. The so-called Network Enforcement Act only provides for the deletion of individual statements. When closing a group, proportionality is not maintained because it would also restrict the freedom of expression of members who behaved correctly. The chamber’s ruling was not initially available.
At the hearing, Resch and his lawyers referred to intervening in demonstrations. These could be dissolved if individuals did not comply with the requirements or committed crimes. They asked the court to apply the “balancing of the interests of the right to assembly” to the present case.
More than 300 criminal complaints
Resch said that it was hardly reasonable for him, either practically or emotionally, to research every single hate comment, report it to Meta and file a criminal complaint. Neither reports to Facebook itself nor around 300 criminal complaints from the DUH stopped the threats.
According to meta-lawyer Tobias Timmann, the proportion of “infringing posts” in the Facebook groups was less than one percent. When asked by the German Press Agency, a Meta spokeswoman said: Hate speech is unacceptable and we are actively taking action against its spread on the Meta platforms. “In this case, we have removed the unlawful content that was reported to us.”
Hope for the next instance
“It is regrettable that the Berlin district court condemned the massive hate and violent comments, but saw no legal way to ban such forums on Facebook and thus protect all the victims of hate speech groups,” said Resch. He is now hoping for the Chamber Court in the next instance.
There, the Green politician Renate Künast achieved a decisive success in November 2022 after years of fighting against wild insults on Facebook. According to the ruling, the politician’s social network had to hand over the data of all users who had massively insulted her online.
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.