The German government has approved a new bill on combating hate speech and fake news, under which social networks could face hefty fines if they fail to remove offensive content promptly. Critics denounced the bill as a violation of free speech.
The bill, introduced by German Justice Minister Heiko Maas, is aimed at forcing social network giants such as Facebook or Twitter to take more responsibility for the content posted by users and to make it compliant with German law.
"We do not accept the fact that companies in Germany do not adhere to the law. Therefore in future, if it doesn't get better, we will impose high fines on these companies," Maas told German broadcaster ARD’s ‘Morgenmagazin’ show.
“Social-network providers are responsible when their platforms are misused to propagate hate crimes and fake news,” he wrote in an emailed statement to Bloomberg.
Earlier, Maas had already warned that online companies that fail to delete content tagged as offensive by some users within the timeframe set in the new bill would face fines of up to €50 million (US$53 million).
Executives of social media groups also risk individual fines of up to €5 million ($5.3 million) in case of non-compliance.
The proposed legislation says that “openly offensive” content should be deleted by social networks within 24 hours after being reported by users, while content whose nature is not clearly offensive should be examined and removed within a week if its illegality is confirmed.
The legislation also stresses that the authorities should take a “cautious approach” towards fining online giants, and only in cases when they regularly fail to remove explicitly offensive content. Social networks should not be punished if the violations of the new regulations take place only in some “specific individual cases,” it states.