Commentary

Germany Proposes Huge Fines For Illegal Content

Germany is serious about policing social media for illegal content, judging by a new proposal from the country’s Justice Ministry threatening huge fines for social media companies that fail to comply with orders to remove prohibited material in a variety of categories.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas is proposing a new law that would entail fines of up to €50 million, or around $53 million, for social-media platforms that repeatedly fail to remove illegal content, including hate speech, threats of violence and fake news, in a timely fashion.

The new law would also require social-media companies operating in Germany to designate an employee who is responsible for responding to complaints about forbidden content, and who would be liable for fines of up to €5 million if the company is judged unresponsive in these cases.

Content that is clearly illegal would have to be removed within 24 hours, while the companies would have a week to remove questionable content that is judged illegal later.

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The new law, now under consideration by the German Bundestag or parliament, represents a major escalation by German regulators in their campaign against hate speech and fake news.

Back in December, Maas proposed a fine of €500,000 euros, or $530,000, for any item of fake news and hate speech, including racism or statements inciting violence, that isn’t removed within 24 hours of being flagged.

Maas justified the escalation by pointing to data showing that social media platforms still weren’t complying with most user requests to remove illegal content, even after the previously threatened fines.

For example, Twitter has removed just 1% of flagged content, while Facebook has removed 39%. Maas stated: “It is now clear that we must further increase the pressure on social networks. We need legal regulations to make companies even more obligated to eradicate criminal offenses.”

Germany lawmakers are especially concerned about the potential impact of fake news on the country’s upcoming parliamentary elections, citing speculation that bogus stories may have influenced the recent U.S. presidential race.

Germany’s powerful chancellor Angela Merkel has previously spoken out against fake news circulating online, particularly made-up stories about the roughly 1 million Middle Eastern refugees who arrived in the country over the last two years. Many pundits fear fake news stories will work to the advantage of the populist, right-wing Alternative for Germany party, which wants to limit immigration and leave the euro.
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