Draft law al­lows for RM236m penalty

New Straits Times - - World -

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.

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