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Germany Proposes Bill That Would Fine Social Networks

06 April 2017

The German government has approved a draft law to fine social networks up to 50 million euros ($53m) if they fail to remove hateful postings and fake news reported by users quickly, prompting concerns over freedom of expression.

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.

"Hate crimes that are not effectively combated and prosecuted pose a great danger for the peaceful cohesion of a free, open and democratic society", the statement said.

Already, a few fake news reports have emerged in Germany, including one falsely alleging a rape a year ago of a German girl of Russian descent by asylum seekers.

Google was judged to have faired better at swiftly nixing hate speech from its social sharing platform YouTube.

The government said the legislation should push social media companies to make it easier for users to file complaints about offensive comments and result in them taking a more pro-active approach to removing the material.

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The reports, which should be provided every three months, must also include data on how many employees are tasked with dealing with offensive content in each social network company.

Failure to comply could see a company fined up to 50 million euros ($53m), and the company's chief representative in Germany fined up to five million euros ($5.3m).

Germany has specific hate speech laws which criminalize certain types of speech, such as incitement to racial violence.

"Freedom of expression ends where criminal law begins", he added. Ms Renate Kuenast, an MP with the opposition Greens, said the fines were "almost an invitation to not just erase real insults, but to wipe out nearly everything for the sake of playing it safe".

Facebook said it was examining the proposed rule, but stressed that it has heavily invested in boosting the resources of its content review team. Stephan Scherzer, chairman of the Association of German Magazine Publishers, said the measure could turn big social media companies into "private opinion police".

"There can be just as little space on social networks for criminal acts as on the street", Maas argued, in defense of the high penalty.

Germany Proposes Bill That Would Fine Social Networks