Annual Report 2016: Successful Work at the eco Complaints Office

  • Findings for 2016: 78% of the justified complaints worldwide were removed from the Internet

  • Between freedom of expression and criminal law in times of hate speech & co

  • Combating illegal content is a task for the whole of society

The eco Complaints Office has for the first time published an Annual Report for the year 2016, which documents a moving and challenging year. From the reported 3,517 complaints (not including spam and Usenet), 1,564 cases were relevant; of these, 78% were removed from the Internet (one hundred percent of cases hosted in Germany were removed).

The handling of indications on illegal Internet content was frequently the subject of public debate, especially in the social policy discussions on hate speech and related issues. These heated debates have once again demonstrated the importance of transparency. “Transparency is the key to trust, and in this regard I would like to thank the eco Complaints Office for its successful and documented work of more than 15 years, which is now also recorded through an annual report,” says State Secretary Gerd Billen (BMJV), who travelled to eco’s office in Berlin for the launch of the annual report.

Between freedom of expression and criminal law in times of hate speech & co

In particular, hate speech was a major topic for the eco Complaints Office in 2016: “We have noted high growth rates of complaints in the field of racism – in comparison to the previous year, the number of complaints received increased by about 80%,” said Alexandra Koch-Skiba, Head of the eco Complaints Office. However, complaints relating to this type of offense have always shown the importance of a careful legal review. “More than 50% of the content reported was ultimately not contrary to German law, and thus was allowed to remain online. Complaints about borderline cases are not uncommon, and we find ourselves walking the thin line between the freedom of expression and criminally relevant statements,” according to Koch-Skiba.

The eco Complaints Office actively accompanies the broad societal debate about the handling of hate speech and incitement in social networks, and it is a member of the task force against hate speech of the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection, due to its many years of expertise in combating illegal Internet content.

Combating illegal content is a task for the whole of society

In the course of the successful cooperation between complaints offices and law enforcement agencies, Internet providers and companies have demonstrated great responsibility. However, it must be clear that “legal prosecution remains a responsibility of the state. Providers should not be turned into deputy sheriffs of the state,” said Koch-Skiba. The state must address the root cause of the problem through effective legal prosecution of the offenders, and the promotion of media literacy that raises public awareness of illegal statements and content.

For over 15 years, the eco Complaints Office has been following the objective of fighting illegal content on the Internet. It is embedded in a system of regulated self-regulation, with the special task of improving the protection of minors on the Internet. In this context, it has also cooperated with law enforcement agencies, especially with the German Federal Criminal Office (BKA).

Further information about the eco Complaints Office can be found under the following link: international.eco.de/internet-complaints-office.html. Here, suspect Internet content of any kind can be reported by means of an online complaint form. The message can be anonymous, if desired.

Further information:

The annual report 2016 of the eco Complaints Office can be downloaded here:
international.eco.de/wp-content/blogs.dir/2/files/annual_report_eco_complaints_office_2017.pdf