Germany’s €50m social media fines: Is it a threat to free speech?

Germany’s €50m social media fines: Is it a threat to free speech?
A new German law creates an incentive for social media companies to remove items on a precautionary basis and is the start of infringing on freedom of speech, says political activist and social justice campaigner George Barda.

Internet giants such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube could face fines of up to €50 million in Germany, if they don't act quickly enough to remove hate speech and defamatory fake news.

RT asked George Barda about the law and whether it poses a threat to free speech, as some people are claiming.

George Barda: "I think it does. My personal take on this is pretty ambiguous in some ways. I think what has triggered this particular step on behalf of the German government is that there was a kind of a voluntary agreement reached between the government and the social media providers in 2015 as to the responsibilities both sides claim they recognize in terms of removing fake news and hate speech. Then there was another report to the German government saying they haven’t really done it.

Speaking as a political activist, the tricky thing here is that in the last 40 years in most industries you have self-regulation instead of regulation. Generally, it doesn’t tend to stand up because it doesn’t compel profit-making entities to take steps that will only cost them more. In principle, the idea of having a law there that actually forces social media competitors to do the right thing, I think it is a good idea. The problem I think is that you are now creating a huge incentive for Facebook to remove all sorts of things on a precautionary basis and that is where it starts infringing on the really important issues of free speech.

Speaking personally from the UK point of view, it is certainly true that what we were able to do on Facebook, among other platforms, was to almost beat the entire establishment in the election, which is a very important thing.

The last thing, …this is really a problematic issue whether the government or the Facebook is charged. And what you need is increasingly independent but well-funded bodies to be making these decisions."

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.