Remove hate speech, fake news or pay ₹350 crore fine: Germany

Facebook in a statement claimed that the company already has 4,500 employees reviewing posts. But it complained at being entrusted with a job that is actually the job of the state

Photo courtesy: Twitter
Photo courtesy: Twitter

NH Web Desk

The German Parliament on Friday approved a legislation that provides for fines up to a hefty 50 million Euros (approximately Rs 350 crore) on social media service providers for their ‘sustained failure’ to remove hate speech and fake news. The law also covers child pornography and terror related posts.

In a statement that has special relevance in India, the German Justice minister Heiko Maas said, “Death threats and insults, incitement to hate or (Holocaust denial) are not part of freedom of expression -- rather, they are attacks against other people's freedom of opinion.” They are intended to intimidate and silence others, he added.

Under the law, Facebook and Twitter will have 24 hours to remove hate speech, threats etc within 24 hours of users flagging them. For offensive posts which may not be so obvious, the deadline will be seven days. The law also provides for a fine up to five million Euros ( Rs 35 crore approximately) on the individual designated by the companies to supervise the screening.

Service providers are also required to publish a statement once every six months about the number of complaints they addressed and how they dealt with them.

The fine, Maas informed, would not be imposed on individual cases but only if the platforms systematically failed to comply with the law.

Germany, which has accepted over a million refugees in the last few years, has been concerned about rising racist slurs and threats on social media. According to an estimate by the German Government, hate crime has increased by over 300% in the last two years.

Social media giants like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc had given an undertaking to the German government in 2015 that they would keep track of hate speech and remove them. But a German government study held the progress to be unsatisfactory. While Twitter took down just one per cent of the content reported, Facebook deleted 39% of the posts objected to. Google’s YouTube performed much better by removing 90% of the videos reported.

While the minister and several lawmakers vigorously defended the legislation, voices of dissent expressed concerned at the ‘assault on free speech on the Internet’. Describing the law as putting an end to freedom on the Internet, several Human Rights organisations and activists expressed concern over the right of censorship being handed over to private companies. Maas stoutly objected to such concerns by saying, “Freedom of expression ends where criminal law begins”.

Reporters Without Borders also objected, saying that the job of deciding the legality of content should not be left to private entities.

Facebook also protested. In a statement the social media giant objected to the state abdicating its responsibility and handing it over to private companies. “Preventing and combating hate speech and fake news is a public task that the state cannot avoid,” it held.

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