Germany plans to fine social media sites over hate speech
Germany plans a new law calling for social networks like Facebook to remove slanderous or threatening online postings quickly or face fines of up to €50 million (NZ$76m).
"This (draft law) sets out binding standards for the way operators of social networks deal with complaints and obliges them to delete criminal content," Justice Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement announcing the planned legislation.
Failure to comply could see a social media company fined up to €50m, and the company's chief representative in Germany fined up to €5m euros.
Germany already has some of the world's toughest hate speech laws covering defamation, slander, public incitement to commit crimes and threats of violence, backed up by prison sentences for Holocaust denial or inciting hatred against minorities. It now aims to update these rules for the social media age.
The issue has taken on more urgency amid concern about the spread of fake news and racist content on social media, which often targets more than 1 million migrants who arrived in Germany in the last two years, as well as members of the Jewish community.
In late 2015, Germany pressed Facebook, Twitter and Google's YouTube to sign up to a code of conduct, which included a pledge to delete hate speech from their websites within 24 hours.
The draft rules would turn the code of conduct into legal obligations to delete or remove illegal content, to report regularly on the volume of filed complaints and they also demand that sites make it easier for users to complain about offensive content.
A survey by the justice ministry's youth protection agency found that YouTube was able to remove around 90 per cent of illegal postings within a week, while Facebook deleted or blocked just 39 per cent of content deemed criminal under the law and Twitter only 1 per cent.
Social networks have raced to improve technology and user feedback on their sites to detect and remove abusive content.
Among Germany's political establishment, there is concern that fake news and racist content on social media could influence public opinion in this year's election campaign. The government, however, would have to move very quickly if it wants to get the law passed before campaigning for the September election begins.