German minister wants to fine Facebook, Twitter up to $53M for fake news

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas wants to fine social media companies up to $53 million if they take too long to remove illegal content, including fake news. Photo by Clemens Bilan/EPA

March 15 (UPI) — Legislation introduced in Germany would fine social media companies like Facebook and Twitter if they delay the removal of illegal content, including fake news, from their websites.

Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas has drafted a bill to impose fines of up to $53 million in a dramatic crackdown on content.

In December, Maas announced legislation to impose fines of up to $530,000 for any item of fake news and hate speech, including racism or comments that incite violence, if they aren’t removed within 24 hours of being flagged.

Maas said he increased the amount because social media platforms still weren’t complying with most user requests to remove illegal content.

“Too little criminal content is being deleted, and it’s not being deleted sufficiently quickly,” he told journalists Tuesday. “The biggest problem is and remains that the networks don’t take the complaints of their own users seriously enough.”

Maas said, according to a recent survey Jugendschutz, that Twitter deletes only 1 percent of the hate speech it is told about by users and Facebook removes only 39 percent. On YouTube, it was 90 percent.

Facebook, which did not comment directly on the proposal, has said its tests showed it removed a higher percentage of illegal content. Facebook plans to have 700 people working in Berlin by the end of 2017 to review flagged content.

The legislation also requires the sites to run 24-hour hotlines and to remove flagged content within seven days.

The bill specifies that content that is “clearly criminal” must be removed within 24 hours. Also, if content is found to be criminal after an investigation, it must be removed in seven days.

Maas said fake news articles proven to be slanderous, defamatory or libelous must be removed.

Bitkom, the German digital trade association, told The Financial Times a requirement to delete posts within 24 hours on sites that carry up to 1 billion posts a day “is utterly impossible to implement in operational terms” and would create a “permanent mechanism of censorship.”

In January, Facebook said it was planning to flag fake news for German users before their election.


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