Germany is planning new laws where Facebook, Google and Twitter, as well as other social media sites, will face fines of up to €500,000 if they publish fake news.
In the eyes of German lawmakers, Facebook is now a publisher and social media sites like it will face tough penalties for publishing fake news.
Germany’s coalition government is threatening to bring in legislation early next year that would fine Facebook and other social media players up to €500,000.
The subject of fake news has arisen in the aftermath of the US elections that saw Trump win a shock victory to become president-elect of the United States and UK voters opt to Brexit the EU.
‘If, after appropriate examination, Facebook does not delete the offending message within 24 hours, it should expect individual fines of up to €500,000’
– THOMAS OPPERMANN
Fake news is being blamed for manipulating voters in each case. It is also believed Russian hackers played a key role in the Wikileaks revelations that turned voters against Hillary Clinton.
“Market-dominating platforms like Facebook will be legally required to build a legal protection office in Germany that is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” parliamentary chair of the Social Democratic Party, Thomas Oppermann, said in a Der Spiegel article quoted in Deutsche Welle.
“If, after appropriate examination, Facebook does not delete the offending message within 24 hours, it should expect individual fines of up to €500,000,”Oppermann said.
After a night of terror that saw nine people killed in Berlin and 50 injured, as well as other incidents where several were injured at a mosque in Zurich and the Russian ambassador to Turkey was assassinated in Ankara, it is unlikely that German legislators will be in a mood to argue over social media sites being used for hate speech.
Laws to get tougher on hate speech online
As well as fines, measures being considered by Angela Merkel’s coalition government include companies setting up clear channels for registering complaints, and legally qualified ombudsmen deleting offensive content.
Germany has some of the world’s toughest laws on hate speech, which include prison sentences for Holocaust denial and inciting hatred against minorities.
A German government report found that tech companies are still struggling to react adequately with Facebook only deleting 46pc, YouTube 10pc and Twitter 1pc of illegal content flagged by ordinary users.
Facebook revealed last Friday that it is experimenting with measures to combat the proliferation of fake news. It said it is working with ABC News, Associated Press, FactCheck.org, PolitiFact and Snopes to investigate stories flagged as fake news by users and will place warnings and downgrade them in feeds.
Remember this is only an experiment, and Facebook is also walking a tightrope where real concerns clash with allegations of censorship.
The hard reality that Facebook has to accept is that it is no longer just the super technology platform and force for unifying humanity that its engineers passionately and fervently dream of it being.
It is a publisher. And as all publishers know, this carries a weight of responsibility.