The German Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, has voted to fine social media networks up to €50 million if they fail to remove hateful content or fake news. The networks will be given 24 hours to block or delete any inappropriate content.
“Freedom of speech ends where criminal law begins,” Justice Minister Heiko Maas said, adding that the measure “end[s] the internet law of the jungle.”
The law gives social media 24 hours to remove or block the illegal content. If a case is more complicated, the platform will be given a week to deal with it. The networks are also obliged to report back to those who filed the complaint about the case details and how they dealt with it.
The measure won’t be imposed after only one violation, but only after a company systematically refuses to delete or block illegal content, the bill suggests.
The companies will have to publish a report every six months, describing in detail how they have dealt with complaints of hate speech on their platforms, the bill suggests.
According to Maas, who proposed the bill back in March, the number of hate crimes in Germany jumped by over 300 per cent in the last two years.
Social media platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter have become a battleground for angry debates about Germany’s recent influx of more than 1 million refugees. The issue has taken on more urgency as German politicians worry that proliferating fake news and racist content, particularly about migrants, could sway public opinion in the run-up to a national election on 24 September.
“This law is the logical next step for effectively tackling hate speech since all voluntary agreements with the platform providers have been virtually unsuccessful,” the Central Council of Jews in Germany said, praising the measure, as cited by Reuters.
However, the companies affected, including Facebook, did not welcome the bill, saying it could crack down on free speech. “This law as it stands now will not improve efforts to tackle this important social problem,” a Facebook statement said.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report