Germany's Justice Minister Heiko Maas proposed legislation on Tuesday to fight hate speech, threatening social media companies with fines of up to €50 million ($ 53million) in case of non-compliance.
Under the rules proposed, internet companies would be required to clearly explain rules and complaint procedures to their users and to follow up on each complaint. Illegal content will have to be deleted within 24 hours, while other offensive content must be taken down or blocked within seven days.
Providers such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube would also have to nominate a person responsible for handling complaints, who could face fines of up to 5 million euros personally if his or her company fails to abide by mandatory standards. Justice Minister Heiko Maas said the measures, which will become part of a bill to be adopted by German lawmakers in the coming months, would not restrict freedom of speech. He also said there were no plans to create a “truth commission” against so-called fake news. However, Maas said that fake news could constitute illegal content “if it constitutes slander, defamation or libel.”
“Too little criminal content is being deleted, and it’s not being deleted sufficiently quickly,” the justice minister told journalists. “The biggest problem is and remains that the networks don’t take the complaints of their own users seriously enough,” he added.
“Facebook and Twitter missed the chance to improve their takedown practices. For companies to take on their responsibility in question of deleting criminal content, we need legal regulations," Maas said.
World Jewish Congress, Central Council of Jews in Germany welcome legislation
World Jewish Congress CEO Robert Singer, who met with German Justice Minister Heiko Maas and with Facebook representatives in Berlin last month, welcomed the new bill. He declared: "The internet is awash with hateful content, a lot of which is illegal incitement to hatred and violence. Currently, it often takes providers far too long to remove or block such content.
"It’s important that the internet companies and politicians take this problem seriously. We commend Germany for taking the lead on this. Minister Heiko Maas’ bill addresses major points of concern, notably the removal of illegal content from social media platforms.
"We hope that the proposed measures will lead to an improvement in the situation and that social media companies and users will do everything to combat online hate effectively."
The Central Council of Jews in Germany also welcomed Maas's proposal, saying stronger measures against "incitement of racial hatred, glorification of National Socialism and Holocaust denial on social media" were "urgently required". Central Council President Josef Schuster, who is also a vice-president of the World Jewish Congress, said: "It starts with words and ends with violence against people."