Germany approves bill curbing online hate crime, fake news

Posted April 06, 2017

German ministers have approved plans to fine social media firms up to 50m euros ($53.3m; £42.7m) if they fail to remove hate speech and fake news quickly.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas said that companies offering such online platforms are responsible for removing hateful content.

"Our problem is that too few [pieces of] criminal content are deleted by the social networks", Maas said.

Beyond hate speech and fake news, the draft legislation also covers other illegal content, including child pornography and terrorism- related activity. "We owe it to the victims of hate crimes to enforce this better".

Other illegal content needs to be deleted within seven days of reporting.

He pointed to a research by Jugendschutz, a German body for the protection of minors on the Internet, which said Facebook only deletes 39 percent of reported criminal content.

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Executives of social media groups also risk individual fines of up to €5 million ($5.3 million) in case of non-compliance.

Underlining the frustration with the slow-moving fight against such online hate, one social network user, Steffi Brachtel, told AFP she had filed countless complaints to Facebook over offensive posts.

Racism and hate speech are believed to have become more prevalent on German social media following the arrival of large number of refugees in the country.

Maas said today the cabinet backing for the draft law paves the way for it to be adopted in Germany within the current legislative period. He said the new bill would not restrict the freedom of expression, but intervene only when criminal hatred or intentionally false news are posted. Critics denounced the bill as a violation of free speech.

Organisations representing digital companies, consumers and journalists, accused the government of rushing a law to parliament that could damage free speech.

As for Twitter, representatives have previously declined to comment on the new standards, choosing instead to refer CNET to recent changes on the site, including new internal tools for detecting hate speech as it happens, new filters for user notifications, and new policies to inform users of action taken against material that they're reported as inappropriate. "Even repulsive and ugly utterances - even lies can be covered by freedom of expression", he said.