Germany has passed a controversial law under which social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube could face a hefty fine of €50 million if they fail to remove hate speech within 24 hours.
The Network Enforcement Act, commonly referred to as the ‘Facebook law’, was passed by Germany’s parliamentary body, Bundestag on 30 June 2017. It will come into effect in October. The move is a part of a crackdown against abuse online.
• The law would require the social media giants to find and delete posts containing ‘evidently unlawful’ abusive material including hate speech, defamation and incitements to violence within 24 hours.
• It also mandates one week’s time to the web companies to decide on cases that aren’t a clear cut violation of law but yet contain hateful material.
• Failure do so would result in an initial fine of €5 million that could rise to about €50 million.
• The law also provides for fines of up to €5m for the person each company designates to deal with the complaints procedure if it doesn’t meet requirements.
• The companies would also have to publish a report every six months detailing how many complaints they received and how they dealt with them.
The main driving force behind the bill, Germany’s Federal Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection Heiko Maas argued that it is necessary to curb the spread of hate speech and experience has shown that, without political pressure, the large platform operators will not fulfil their obligations and therefore, this law is imperative.
Maas added saying that “freedom of expression ends where criminal law begins.” He said that according to official figures, the number of hate crimes in Germany have increased by more than 300% in the last two years. He also called for Europe-wide regulations on hate speech and fake news.
However, digital rights activists are of the opinion that implementation of the law would mean violation of freedom of speech and that it would give the tech companies disproportionate responsibility in determining the legality of content online.
“We believe the best solutions will be found when government, civil society and industry work together and that this law as it stands now will not improve efforts to tackle this important societal problem,” said a Facebook spokesperson in an email statement.
The spokesperson further added that they will continue to do everything they can to ensure safety for the people on their platform.
• Social media platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter have become a battleground for heated debates over Germany’s ongoing refugee crisis.
• The country has lately seen an influx of more than 1 million refugees, which has given rise to an anti-immigrant sentiment among its people.
• Going by a 2015 deal with the German government, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google had agreed to remove hateful content from their platforms within 24 hours but a 2017 report commissioned by the Justice Ministry found that the companies were still failing to meet their commitments.
• The German police raided 36 homes earlier this month over hateful social media posts,following a similar operation that targeted 60 people last year.
• Besides Germany, several European Union leaders have also increased pressure on the social media companies to remove hate speech, fake news and terrorist propaganda.
• Last month, the European Council approved a set of proposals that would require web companies to block any videos that contain hate speech or incitements to terrorism.
The social media companies, Facebook and Google have independently also launched campaigns to combat fake news and hate speech in recent months. In fact, Facebook announced recently that it would hire an additional 3,000 people over the next year to moderate flagged content.