Hatespeech: Frankfurt Regional Court hears lawsuit against Twitter

Twitter is on trial in Frankfurt: A Würzburg lawyer accuses the short message service of not removing illegal content sufficiently. The process could have far-reaching consequences for Elon Musk’s company.

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Sonja Fourate

It is extremely unlikely that the billionaire and new Twitter owner Elon Musk will appear before the Frankfurt Regional Court on Thursday. The fact that Twitter has to stop its service in Germany after the trial – that could happen on the other hand.

Because the media lawyer Chan-jo Jun has filed an urgent application for an injunction, which is to be heard in the district court. The accusation: the social network has repeatedly left illegal content online despite complaints and has refused to delete the content.

Specifically, it is about tweets about the Anti-Semitism Commissioner of Baden-Württemberg, Michael Blume. False facts about him were spread on Twitter, including an affair with a minor.

Blume: Accounts should remain deleted

Blume said on Thursday shortly before the trial began: “I’m not concerned with Twitter shutting down.” Rather, it is about the very fundamental question of how much hate speech can be spread on Twitter and to what extent victims of slander campaigns are left alone. The new Twitter boss Elon Musk wants to allow masses of accounts again from people who “trolled” him and his family, said Blume. “Then the next few weeks will be torture for me and my family.”

The short message service should ensure that the accounts remain deleted. Blume was and is repeatedly exposed to massive attacks on Twitter. It’s about how much public people have to put up with, he explained.

Twitter should also delete screenshots

Chan-jo Jun further argues that Twitter must ensure that such content is not only deleted, but also no longer appears there – for example in screenshots. So all tweets with “core same statements” would have to be deleted. This is required by German law (NetzDG), as Jun explains in a video on his YouTube channel.

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The company’s lawyers told him that the demands he was making jeopardize Twitter’s business model and are unreasonable, Jun reports. He eagerly awaits the exact explanations of the lawyers in court. When asked by hr, the Frankfurt branch of a New York commercial law firm commissioned by Twitter said that it would not comment before the proceedings.

Courts have already shut down servers

In addition, according to Jun, a fundamental solution to the problem would require interventions in the programming and the Twitter algorithm. After the layoffs and understaffing in many areas the company will hardly be able to do so, the media lawyer speculates. The lawsuit is directed against Dublin-based Twitter International, a European subsidiary that is also responsible for German operations. It is a model lawsuit, the costs of which are borne by the organization HateAid.

The Würzburg lawyer himself considers it unlikely that operations will have to be stopped, but does not rule it out, as he explains in the video: “If you cannot operate a portal because you do not have the employees for it, you have to switch it off .” Personnel bottlenecks are no reason to continue an infringement. In similar cases, courts would have had servers shut down in the event of copyright infringement.

Musk tweet cited as evidence

So far, the short message service has often used so-called geo-blocking when content has been banned in a country. Certain tweets will then no longer be available there. In the case of Blume, however, Jun considers the technology to be unsuitable because it is about a person who works internationally.

For his evidence in Frankfurt, Jun also wants to use a tweet from the new owner himself: Last week, Musk said there was freedom of expression on his platform, but not “freedom of reach”. Hate postings should therefore be withdrawn from the range. Twitter will not make any money from advertising with such tweets and they will no longer be found using the search function. For Jun, this proves that illegal content would remain visible on Twitter.

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Instead of ordering the service to be suspended, the court could initially impose a fine. How high this would have to be so that it hits Twitter at all is an open question. For Jun, the hearing in Frankfurt is a test case for similar cases. “The court has the opportunity to clarify many fundamental questions,” says the lawyer. According to a court spokeswoman, the verdict in the civil dispute, which is scheduled for one day of the hearing, is planned for the end of December.

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Renate Künast against Facebook

Chan-jo Jun represented Renate Künast against Facebook for around three years. The Green politician defended herself against insults – and won in early November 2022. In this case, Facebook now needs data from multiple users release, so that Künast can take action against them (Az.: 10 W 13/20). Künast also asked Facebook to delete false posts about her, which the network dismissed as unreasonable. Here, the Frankfurt Regional Court decided that the operator of a social network (i.e. Facebook, today Meta) must also automatically delete “core content” and memes in the case of defamatory content (Az.: 2-03 O 188/21). The procedure goes to the next instance.

The German Network Search Act (NetzDG) obligated Social media platforms to respond promptly to reports of hate speech. Illegal statements must be removed within 24 hours of being reported to the platform.

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