PLAN TO FINE SOCIAL MEDIA OVER FAKE NEWS
Draft law allows for RM236m penalty
SOCIAL networks that fail to delete hate speech and fake news from their sites could face fines of up to €50 million (RM236 million), if plans for a new law by the German government goes through.
Sites would also have to nominate a person responsible for handling complaints, who could face fines of up to €5 million personally if the company fails to abide by mandatory standards.
This would be the most extreme restriction taken by a European government against social media networks like Facebook and Twitter.
A Financial Times report quoted Germany’s justice minister, Heiko Maas, as saying that social media companies were not doing enough to eradicate racist incitement and slander posted by their users.
“Too little illegal content is being deleted and it’s not being deleted sufficiently quickly.
“The biggest problem is and remains that the network don’t take the complaints of their own users seriously enough,” said Maas.
The move follows concern in German political circles over the potential influence fake news and hate speech might have on the September general election.
The draft law is aimed at eradicating hate speech, which saw a spike in Germany after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2015 decision to open Germany’s borders to hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing civil war and economic impoverishment in the Middle East and north Africa.
“The bill was also aimed at fake news, specifically items that are potentially slanderous or defamatory, although it would not introduce criminal sanctions against all hoaxes or fictitious news stories,” the Financial Times report read.
“The fear is that internet hoaxes and lies could play a large role in Germany as they did during the US election campaign, when fictitious news stories, such as one claiming that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump, went viral on Facebook.”
The move has also received criticism from tech and internet think tank Stiftung Neue Verantwortung’s Stefan Heumann, who said the law could undermine the right to free speech.
“The danger is that platforms will err on the side of caution and delete posts that are not really illegal, just to avoid the prospect of fines,” he said.
In January, Facebook announced that it was testing its fake news filtering tools in Germany.
“We are committed to working with the government and our partners to address this societal issue,” it said, adding that, by the end of the year, there would be more than 700 people working on content review for Facebook in Berlin.
According to Maas, through the proposed law, social media platforms would also have to delete or block all clearly criminal content within 24 hours.
However, they would have seven days to pull or block comments that were less obviously illegal and only found to be so after being checked. In each case, the complainant would have to be informed immediately of any decision.
He also said that the law would oblige social networks to provide a quarterly report on how they had dealt with grievances, how many were received and how they were resolved, as well as details about the number of its workforce deployed in complaints management.
The move by the German government is a far cry from the United Kingdom, which had stated that it does not have any intention to introduce laws to combat the spread of fake news. By Beatrice Nita Jay
The ‘Financial Times’ report on Germany’s draft plan aimed at eradicating fake news and hate speech.