Social Media

Germany May Fine Social Media Companies For Allowing Hate Speech

New bill could make Facebook and Twitter pay for not policing their platforms

Social Media
Illustration R. A. Di Ieso
Mar 14, 2017 at 1:45 PM ET

A new bill that will soon be presented in German Parliament aims to take social media sites to task for failing to combat hate speech in a timely, appropriate manner.

Presented by the country’s Federal Minister of Interior, Heiko Maas, the law would also require social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter to report on how they handled complaints about criminal offenses posted to them on a quarterly basis. Citing a report from Jugendschutz, a German organization that works with the government and aims to protect minors, Maas said that these companies do not delete enough criminal content and that they work too slowly. The report found that Twitter deletes only one percent of illegal content flagged by users compared to Facebook’s 39 percent.

“The biggest problem is that the networks do not take the complaints of their own users seriously enough,” he said in a release. “We need legal regulations to make companies even more obligated to eradicate criminal offenses.”

In addition to hate speech, the language of the bill also makes “fake news” punishable if they contain slander, defamation, or libel.

The fine for not removing this kind of content within a week would be hefty — up to $5 million for individuals responsible for removing the content and $53 million for the company as a whole.

German laws surrounding free speech are notably more lax than those in the U.S., where both Facebook and Twitter are based. There, any sentiment of overt racism or anti-Semitism are illegal, and so is Holocaust denial. This presents a challenge in defining “illegal” content.

While Facebook told the AP that it would examine the proposal, mentioning that their data shows higher rates of removal than 39 percent, Twitter declined to comment, only stating that it has been working to prevent visibility of abuse occurring on the platform in recent months.

It is expected that the bill would not make its way to lawmakers until at least September.