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Germany Proposes Massive Fines For Social Media Hate Posts

Social networks like Facebook or Twitter could face fines of up to €50 million in Germany if they fail to remove hate speech or libel quickly enough.

The country’s justice minister, Heiko Maas, says that monitoring of the sites’ content by youth protection organization Jugendschutz.net shows that Facebook’s record has actually got worse.

While last summer, the company was apparently blocking 46% of criminal content reported by users, that figure’s now fallen to 39%. Only 33% were deleted within 24 hours of the complaint.

Meanwhile, over on Twitter, only one message in 100 was deleted – and none within 24 hours. However, YouTube fared rather better, taking down 90% of reported criminal posts, 82% within 24 hours.

“Facebook and Twitter have not used the opportunity to improve their deletion practices. Too few punishable comments are deleted. And they are not erased quickly enough. The biggest problem is that the networks do not take the complaints of their own users seriously enough,” says Maas in a statement.

“Therefore, 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.”While the new law wouldn’t extend the definition of criminal speech, he says, it could cover fake news ‘if it constitutes slander, defamation or libel’.

Under the new proposals, social networks would be obliged to publish a quarterly accountability report – which would include information on just how many employees were responsible for deleting and blocking content.

They’ll also be forced to introduce a simple, constantly-available, complaint process for reporting illegal content. Anything ‘obviously illegal’ should be deleted within 24 hours; anything that takes a bit of investigation should be down within a week.

There should be a single, nominated individual in charge of the process – and breaking the rules could leave this individual personally liable for a €5 million ($5.3 million) fine, with the company facing a further €50 million.

Two years ago, Germany introduced a voluntary code of condcut for internet companies – and this new proposal shows that it’s decidedly unhappy with the results.

The country has, for obvious reasons, always been extremely concerned about hate speech, taking stronger measures than most to eliminate it. And the problem’s a particularly pressing one right now. Elections are coming up, and some political figures are attempting to whip up hatred against the more than one million migrants who have entered the country in the last couple of years.

Meanwhile, Breitbart News – which published a completely made-up report about a church being set fire on New Year’s Eve – is reportedly planning a German-language site.

“Hate and hatred endanger the cohesion in our country, are poison for our society,” says federal youth minister Manuela Schwesig.

“It is not acceptable that companies are making huge profits with their social networks and at the same time shirking their responsibilities in the fight against hate messages.”

Of course, complying with the new bill’s proposals would be easier said than done. Digital trade association Bitkom, for example, has said that removing posts within 24 hours would be ‘utterly impossible to implement in operational terms’. Some compromise is likely before the bill is approved in final form.

Follow me on Twitter: @EmmaWoollacott

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