Germany’s Cabinet Wants to Fine Social Media Over Hate Speech

April 5, 2017, 1:35 PM UTC
Syrian Refugee Sues Facebook Over Misused Photos
WURZBURG, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 06: The Syrian refugee Anas Modamani speaks to the media after the court session over his lawsuit against Facebook at the Landgericht courthouse on February 6, 2017 in Wurzburg, Germany. Modamani is suing Facebook over selfie photos of himself with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that he says were misused by Facebook users accusing him of being a terrorist or guilty of other crimes and that Facebook refused to remove. This is the first time Facebook is being taken to court in Germany. (Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)
Thomas Lohnes—Getty Images

The German cabinet approved a plan on Wednesday to fine social networks such as Facebook up to 50 million euros ($53 million) if they do not remove hateful postings quickly and to make them reveal the identity of those behind the posts.

“There should be just as little tolerance for criminal rabble rousing on social networks as on the street,” Justice Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement, adding that he would seek to push for similar rules at a European level.

Germany already has some of the world’s toughest hate speech laws covering defamation, public incitement to commit crimes and threats of violence, backed up by prison sentences for Holocaust denial or inciting hatred against minorities.

The issue has taken on more urgency due to concern about the spread of fake news and racist content on social media, with many in Germany’s political establishment worried it could influence public opinion in this year’s election campaign.

The draft law would give social networks 24 hours to delete or block obviously criminal content and seven days to deal with less clear-cut cases, with an obligation to report back to the person who filed the complaint about how they handled the case.

Failure to comply with the law expected to be passed before elections in September could see a company fined up to 50 million euros, and the company’s chief representative in Germany fined up to 5 million euros.

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