Welcome to lucky edition 13 of Everything in Moderation, a weekly(ish) look at the policies, people and platforms at the centre of online. A special hello to those from BlauW, UCLA, Vox, Time Out and Global News who are receiving this for the first time.
If you’ve been receiving EiM a while, you may have noticed things were a bit quiet in December as a result of a big work deadline and some trips which put me off my stride a little. Apologies if you missed it — I'm going to be more regular and consistent in 2019.
Anything you can do to help me do that (feedback, tips etc), I’d love to hear them.
Thanks for reading — BW
Fröhliche Geburtstag NetzDG!
I always struggle to remember people’s birthdays. So, it wasn’t surprising that I almost missed the Network Enforcement Act's (NetzDG) first birthday last week.
The legislation, designed to combat fake news in Germany, was introduced on January 1, 2018, and makes the SNPs (social network platforms, as the Germans call them) responsible for removing content ‘manifestly unlawful content’ with 24 hours of a complaint and other complaints within seven days.
With platform regulation on the horizon elsewhere in Europe during 2019, it’s worth taking a look at how it's performing.
No fines (yet)
The 50m euro fines provided a headline-friendly figure back in 2017 and it seems that threat has proved enough to ensure the platforms, even deep-pocketed Facebook, take it seriously. As a result, no cases have been brought under the legislation and no fines levied.
No evidence of overblocking (yet)
Human rights groups piled in when NetzDG was announced, insisting that it would lead to aggressive deletion, or ‘overblocking’, by the SNPs to avoid the mammoth fines. It hasn’t turned out that way yet, with Google/YouTube and Twitter receiving high numbers of reported items between Jan and July 2018 (241,000 and 264,000 respectively) but a low number of take-downs (both under 20%). This suggests the problem is that users are misusing the NetzDG process, rather than SNPs being overly cautious.
Pressure on the EU
One way that NetzDG has definitely had an effect is in making the European Commission propose its own legislation. The scope of the law, proposed in September, is narrower than NetzDG but will likely stop other EU countries bringing their own legislation into being.
Pressure on Maas?
Heiko Maas, the German Justice Minister, claimed in a debate in November that the law was working well. However, as Lawfareblog notes, he was expecting 25,000 reported items a year under the legislation and that has not materialised. How will that play out this year?
With the German government insisting that it will be three years before they do a review of the law’s impact, it's too early to gauge the impact of NetzDG. The SNPs next transparency report, due at the end of this month, will give more detail as to whether they’re doing enough.
This piece came out before Christmas but is worth reading on two counts: 1) because stories of moderators enjoying their job is rare and nice and welcome and 2) because moderating in a different country, even if it's English, is really tough. Dorothy dixers anyone?
Finally I can publicly out myself as one of the moderators
This is also from before Christmas but I really like it and wanted to include it here. Two Stanford students published a piece in their student paper in which they spoke to 20 Reddit moderators from the most popular threads to get their take on what Facebook needs to do to clean up their act.
I've written about Spaceship Media's The Many Facebook group here before (Democrat and Republican women talking about politics in a closed Facebook group with great moderators). Well, it's come to an end but there's lots of great learnings from it (including that talking about periods can be beneficial to a more civilised debate) [PS hi Kristine!]
When it came to discussing their monthly visitor, Aunt Flo, it was impossible to tell the Republicans from the Democrats. The women were, to put it plainly, talking about menstruation.
Everything in Moderation is a weekly newsletter about content moderation and the policies, products, platforms and people shaping its future.