Ger­man ‘fake news’ bill un­der fire

Financial Times Middle East - - Front Page - GUY CHAZAN — HANOVER

EU dig­i­tal com­mis­sioner An­drus An­sip has hit out at Ger­many’s tough new bill on in­ter­net hate speech and mis­in­for­ma­tion, say­ing ban­ning so-called fake news was not a pri­or­ity.—

The EU dig­i­tal com­mis­sioner has crit­i­cised Ger­many’s tough new bill on hate speech and mis­in­for­ma­tion on the in­ter­net, say­ing self-reg­u­la­tion and en­forc­ing ex­ist­ing EU laws are more im­por­tant than try­ing to ban fake news.

“We shouldn’t kill in­no­va­tion in Europe by over-reg­u­lat­ing plat­forms,” An­drus An­sip said. Google and Face­book had taken im­por­tant steps to curb ex­cesses on their plat­forms in re­cent months and these should be en­cour­aged. “I be­lieve in self-reg­u­la­tion,” he added.

He was speak­ing less than a week af­ter the Ger­man govern­ment pre­sented a draft law that would im­pose fines of up to €50 mon so­cial net­works that fail to delete hate speech or fake news.

The bill re­flects deep­en­ing con­cern in Ger­many’s po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment about the role that in­ter­net mis­in­for­ma­tion and hoaxes could play in this year’s gen­eral elec­tion cam­paign, where the pop­ulist, anti-im­mi­gra­tion Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many (AfD) is ex­pected to win seats for the first time.

Ber­lin has been con­cerned at the preva­lence of fake sto­ries that may have in­flu­enced voter be­hav­iour dur­ing the US elec­tion cam­paign.

The Ger­man jus­tice ministry’s pro­posed law would cre­ate a le­gal re­quire­ment for so­cial net­works to of­fer users “an eas­ily recog­nis­able, im­me­di­ately ac­ces­si­ble and al­ways avail­able process for reg­is­ter­ing com­plaints about illegal con­tent”. They would also be obliged to delete or block clearly illegal con­tent within 24 hours, ris­ing to seven days for less clear-cut cases.

The leg­is­la­tion is pri­mar­ily aimed at hate speech, which has pro­lif­er­ated in Ger­many in the wake of the refugee cri­sis, but would also cover po­ten­tial slan­der­ous or defam­a­tory fake news. Ger­many has strict rules lim­it­ing free speech, with bans on in­cite­ment to racial ha­tred and Holo­caust de­nial.

Face­book said it was try­ing to deal with the is­sue and that by the end of the year it would have more than 700 con­tent re­view­ers in Ber­lin. It is also test­ing fake news fil­ter­ing tools in Ger­many.

Speak­ing at the CeBIT tech­nol­ogy trade fair in Hanover, Mr An­sip said it was “pretty dan­ger­ous” to pro­hibit in­ter­net hoaxes and said gov­ern­ments should in­stead “trust to people’s com­mon sense”. “Fake news is bad, but a ministry of truth is even worse ,” he said.

He noted the re­sult of this month’s Dutch elec­tion, where centre-right prime min­is­ter Mark Rutte beat far­right pop­ulist Geert Wilders, showed that“people are quite ca­pa­ble of dis­tin­guish­ing­be­tween fake and real news ”.

He also sug­gested that the EU al­ready had ad­e­quate tools for deal­ing with on­line hate speech and mis­in­for­ma­tion, re­fer­ring to a vol­un­tary code of con­duct with the in­ter­net plat­forms, and “no­tice and take down” pro­ce­dures set out in the EU’s own ecom­merce reg­u­la­tions.

These re­quire host­ing ser­vice providers such as so­cial net­works or on­line re­tail­ers to re­move illegal con­tent when alerted to it by users.

‘Fake news is bad, but a ministry of truth is even worse’ An­drus An­sip, EU dig­i­tal head

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