German Justice Minister Heiko Maas has watered down plans to impose fines of up to 50 million euros ($53 million) if social networks such as Facebook do not remove slanderous or abusive online postings quickly, Der Spiegel said on Tuesday.
Proposed legislation to be considered by German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet on Wednesday omits a line that had been included in the draft legislation which said such a fine could be imposed after just one incident, the German magazine said, citing a copy of the proposal.
Instead, the legislation now says a single infraction does not mean a company lacks an effective means to deal with complaints about hate speech, and calls for “careful actions by the fining authority to protect freedom of speech,” it said.
Various groups had rejected Maas’s initial proposal, warning social media companies could over-react and remove too many postings, thereby limiting free speech on the internet.
Mass unveiled plans for the new legislation last month, saying it would establish “binding standards” for how social media platforms dealt with complaints and oblige them to delete criminal content.
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Germany already has some of the world’s toughest hate speech laws covering defamation, slander, public incitement to commit crimes and threats of violence, backed up by prison sentences for Holocaust denial or inciting hatred against minorities. It now aims to update these rules for the social media age.
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The issue has taken on more urgency amid concern about the spread of fake news and racist content on social media targeting more than 1 million migrants who arrived in Germany in the last two years, as well as members of the Jewish community.