Germany approves bill to fine social media up to €50mn over online hate speech, fake news

The German parliament has voted to fine social media networks up to €50 million ($56 million) if they fail to remove hateful content or fake news. The networks will be given 24 hours to block or delete any inappropriate content.

“Freedom of speech ends where criminal law begins,” Justice Minister Heiko Maas said, adding that the measure “end[s] the internet law of the jungle.”

The law gives social media 24 hours to remove or block the illegal content. If a case is more complicated, the platform will be given a week to deal with it. The networks also obliged to report back to those who filed the complaint about the case details and how they dealt with it.

The measure won’t be imposed after only one violation, but only after a company systematically refuses to delete or block illegal content, the bill suggests.

The companies will have to publish a report every six months, describing in detail how they have dealt with complaints of hate speech on their platforms, the bill suggests.

According to Maas, who proposed the bill back in March, the number of hate crimes in Germany jumped by over 300 percent in the last two years.

“This law is the logical next step for effectively tackling hate speech since all voluntary agreements with the platform providers have been virtually unsuccessful,” the Central Council of Jews in Germany said, praising the measure, as cited by Reuters.

However, the companies affected, including Facebook, did not welcome the bill, saying it could crack down on free speech.

“This law as it stands now will not improve efforts to tackle this important social problem,” a Facebook statement said.

“We feel that the lack of scrutiny and consultation do not do justice to the importance of the subject. We will continue to do everything we can to ensure safety for the people on our platform.”

REAM MORE: Facebook accuses German govt of ‘shortcomings’ over hate speech bill

A Facebook spokesperson told RT in an emailed statement that the company has always viewed hate speech as a serious issue, but does not believe that the German law can “improve efforts to tackle this important societal problem.”

“We share the goal of the German government to fight hate speech. We have been working hard on this problem and have made substantial progress in removing illegal content,” the statement read.

Facebook said it was adding 3,000 people to its community operations team, on top of the 4,500 it already has, and was “building better tools to keep our community safe.”

“We believe the best solutions will be found when government, civil society and industry work together and that this law as it stands now will not improve efforts to tackle this important societal problem. We feel that the lack of scrutiny and consultation do not do justice to the importance of the subject,” it added.

In the “background points” provided with the statement, Facebook said that the law was criticized by legal experts for being rushed through parliament despite contradicting the German constitution and EU laws.

According to the company, the legislation would allow deleting “content that is not clearly illegal” and shift complex legal decision-making from the government to tech firms.

In May Reporters Without Borders said the group “fears censorship resulting from German law on online hate content.”

“RSF opposes this bill, which would just contribute to the trend to privatize censorship by delegating the duties of judges to commercial online platforms and making them decide where or not content should be deleted, as if the Internet giants can replace independent and impartial courts,” said Elodie Vialle, the head of RSF’s Journalism and Technology desk.