German cabinet agrees to fine social media over hate speech

Justice Minister Heiko Maas attends a cabinet meeting in Berlin

Justice Minister Heiko Maas attends a cabinet meeting in Berlin Germany

Germany on Wednesday took the European lead in cracking down against hate speech and fake news, threatening social media giants with fines of up to 50 million euros (S$74.55 million) if they failed to remove offensive posts promptly.

Germany poses a particular problem for USA -owned social networking sites accustomed to American standards of free speech.

Germany's Cabinet has approved new rules to ensure that most marriages involving under-18s aren't legally recognized in the country.

The new law, that is set to be approved by the German parliament in July, is created to help protect exploited minors, especially girls, by annulling foreign marriages.

The waitress had begun her one-woman campaign against online hate speech after a friend shared an objectionable cartoon on Facebook.

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).

"This legislation would force private companies rather than the courts to become the judges of what is illegal in Germany", he said, adding that Facebook's partner Arvato would employ up to 700 staff in Berlin for "content moderation" by year's end. Failure to do so can result in fines of up to Euro 5 million for responsible managers and Euro 50 million for companies. "That would have a serious impact on free speech on the internet".

"Given the short deadlines and the severe penalties, providers will be forced to delete doubtful statements as a precaution", said the group's manager, Bernhard Rohleder.

The minister pointed out that social networks don't delete enough punishable content, citing research that he said showed Twitter deletes just 1 per cent of illegal content flagged by users, while Facebook deletes 39 per cent.

However, German officials said the companies are failing to meet the target.

As for Twitter, representatives have previously declined to comment on the new standards, choosing instead to refer CNET to recent changes on the site, including new internal tools for detecting hate speech as it happens, new filters for user notifications, and new policies to inform users of action taken against material that they're reported as inappropriate. The goal is to make social networks enforce existing German laws on illegal content "quickly and in full", he said.

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