Germany getting tough on social media hate speech

The likes of Facebook and Twitter could be in for big fines...

Germany is considering legislation that would see social networks fined by as much as €50 million if they fail to adequately tackle the spread of hate speech and fake news.

Speaking as the first draft of the bill was presented on Tuesday, German justice minister Heiko Maas told reporters:

"We have to increase the pressure on social networks. Too little illegal content is deleted, it's not deleted quickly enough and it looks like the operators of social networks aren't taking their users seriously enough."

If passed, the bill would also see corporate officials at companies such as Facebook and Twitter potentially hit with separate fines of up to €5m if they fail to curb malicious and false content.

A year-long study commissioned by the ministry into how social networks have performed in their duties found that Twitter had only deleted 1% of offending material within 24 hours of it appearing, while Facebook had deleted 39%.

Google's YouTube fared far better, deleting 90% of content flagged by users.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas. Photo by Emmanuele Contini/NurPhoto

According to Bloomberg, social networks will be required to delete or block "obviously illegal" material within 24 hours after it has been flagged, with a seven-day window for other illegal content. Germany has set a target of 70% of content being deleted within one day.

The study did show that both Facebook and Twitter erased nearly all illegal hate speech eventually.

The draft legislation states:

"Companies that don't set up effective complaint management or don't do so properly – in particular by not deleting illegal content completely or in a timely manner – are committing an administrative offense."

In January, Germans became the first Facebook users to get the ability to flag potentially false stories.

These flagged stories are then passed on to third-part fact checkers, with material found to be unreliable marked as "disputed" in the Newsfeed.