The Austrian government has presented a draft online hate speech law, the Communication Platforms Act, which, if passed, will limit free speech in the country. The Austrian government writes in the introduction to its proposed law:
“The main reason for the development of this draft Act is the worrying development that the Internet and social media, in addition to the advantages that these new technologies and communication channels provide, have also established a new form of violence, and hate on the Internet is increasing in the form of insults, humiliation, false information and even threats of violence and death. The attacks are predominantly based on racist, xenophobic, misogynistic and homophobic motives. A comprehensive strategy and a set of measures are required that range from prevention to sanctions. This strategy is based on the two pillars of platform responsibility and victim protection, with the present draft Act relating to ensuring platform responsibility”.
The proposed law is modelled on Germany’s much criticized NetzDG law, also known as the censorship law, which came into effect in January 2018 and requires social media companies to delete or block any online unlawful content within 24 hours or 7 days at the most, or face fines of up to 50 million euros.
In May 2020, France adopted a similar law, known as the “Avia law“, also modelled on the German NetzDG law, which requires online platforms to remove reported “hateful content” — incitement to hatred, or discriminatory insult, on the grounds of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or disability — within 24 hours. Failure to do so could result in fines of up to 1.25 million euros or 4% of the platform’s global revenue.
Similarly, the Austrian law requires “obviously” unlawful content to be deleted within 24 hours and other unlawful content within seven days. Failure to do so could lead to fines of up to 10 million euros ($12 million). Platforms must provide a reporting function for such content and react immediately to notifications.
Just like Germany’s NetzDG law, the Austrian censorship law privatizes state censorship by requiring social media platforms to censor their users on behalf of the state.