Berlin to evaluate online hate law amid Arabic police greeting Twitter storm

German Justice minister Heiko Maas fell victim to anti-hate speech rules he himself championed. Maas had in a 2010 tweet called Thilo Sarrazin, a politician who wrote a controversial book on Muslim immigrants, “an idiot.” The post was deleted after Twitter received several complaints, fueling a simmering row over the new regulation. (AFP)
Updated 09 January 2018

Berlin to evaluate online hate law amid Arabic police greeting Twitter storm

BERLIN: Germany signalled Monday it was open to amending a controversial law combatting online hate speech as the justice minister fell victim to the rules he himself championed.
The move came after Twitter deleted a post by Heiko Maas dating back to 2010 before he was appointed justice minister, in which he called a fellow politician “an idiot.”
The post was deleted after Twitter received several complaints, fueling a simmering row over the new regulation which critics say stifle freedom of speech.
Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said an evaluation would be carried out within six months to examine how well the new law was working.
“It’s best to conduct the evaluation with an open mind, and then we’ll see what experience can be drawn from it, what impact and then all that would be weighed up,” he told reporters.
Germany adopted the law, one of the toughest in the world, after a surge in racist and incendiary speech online, particularly after the arrival of more than one million asylum-seekers since 2015.
The legislation, which came into force on Jan. 1, requires social media giants to remove hate speech and other illegal content, or risk fines of up to €50 million ($57 million).
Companies such as Twitter and Facebook have 24 hours to remove posts that openly violate German law after they are flagged by users.
But critics said the law pushes social media companies into taking a pro-active stance in deleting potentially offensive posts, effectively handing them the power of censorship.
Parties including the AfD, the pro-business FDP, far-left Linke as well as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Bavarian allies CSU are lining up to demand it be scrapped or amended.
The row returned to haunt the justice minister over the weekend when he found his tweet about Thilo Sarrazin, a politician who wrote a controversial book on Muslim immigrants, had been deleted.
Speaking to Bild on Monday, Maas said he “did not receive any information from Twitter about why the tweet was deleted,” admitting there are “things that I would no longer tweet today.”
Barely a week after coming into force, the new law has sparked intense debate as it snared high-profile individuals.
Far-right MP Beatrix von Storch became the first prominent politician to fall foul of the new rules with posts deleted from both Twitter and Facebook.
Von Storch, deputy leader of the anti-immigration AfD party’s parliamentary group, had criticized Cologne police for sending a New Year’s greeting in Arabic on Twitter.
“What the hell is going on with this country? Why is an official police site ... tweeting in Arabic?” she wrote. “Did you mean to placate the barbaric, Muslim, gang-raping hordes of men?”
Her colleague Jens Maier is facing a criminal complaint over a tweet that called Boris Becker’s son a “half-negro.”
The AfD capitalized on discontent against a mass influx of asylum seekers to Germany since 2015 to make the strongest showing for a far-right party in a national election in the post-war era.


Google CEO calls for regulation of artificial intelligence

Updated 20 January 2020

Google CEO calls for regulation of artificial intelligence

  • Sundar Pichai’s comments come as lawmakers and governments seriously consider putting limits on how artificial intelligence is used
  • Pichai’s comments suggest the company may be hoping to head off a broad-based crackdown by the EU on the technology

LONDON: Google’s chief executive called Monday for a balanced approach to regulating artificial intelligence, telling a European audience that the technology brings benefits but also “negative consequences.”

Sundar Pichai’s comments come as lawmakers and governments seriously consider putting limits on how artificial intelligence is used.

“There is no question in my mind that artificial intelligence needs to be regulated. The question is how best to approach this,” Pichai said, according to a transcript of his speech at a Brussel-based think tank.

He noted that there’s an important role for governments to play and that as the European Union and the US start drawing up their own approaches to regulation, “international alignment” of any eventual rules will be critical. He did not provide specific proposals.

Pichai spoke on the same day he was scheduled to meet the EU’s powerful competition regulator, Margrethe Vestager.

Vestager has in previous years hit the Silicon Valley giant with multibillion-dollar fines for allegedly abusing its market dominance to choke off competition. After being reappointed for a second term last autumn with expanded powers over digital technology policies, Vestager has now set her sights on artificial intelligence, and is drawing up rules on its ethical use.

Pichai’s comments suggest the company may be hoping to head off a broad-based crackdown by the EU on the technology. Vestager and the EU have been the among the more aggressive regulators of big tech firms, an approach US authorities have picked up with investigations into the dominance of companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon.

“Sensible regulation must also take a proportionate approach, balancing potential harms with social opportunities,” he said, adding that it could incorporate existing standards like Europe’s tough General Data Protection Regulation rather than starting from scratch.

While it promises big benefits, he raised concerns about potential downsides of artificial intelligence, citing as one example its role in facial recognition technology, which can be used to find missing people but also for “nefarious reasons” which he didn’t specify.

In 2018, Google pledged not to use AI in applications related to weapons, surveillance that violates international norms, or that works in ways that go against human rights.