Social media companies could face millions of dollars in fines if Germany approves proposed legislation aimed at curbing hate speech online.
Heiko Maas, Germany’s minister of justice and consumer protection, said Tuesday he would introduce a bill setting a strict time frame for companies to delete content that violates the nation’s hate-speech laws and providing for fines of up to 50 million euros ($53 million) for those failing to comply, The New York Times reports. The fine would likely be the highest in any Western nation.
The legislation “would require social media platforms to make it easy for users to report contentious material, and to respond to those requests promptly,” the Times reports. “It calls for ‘obviously criminal content’ to be deleted or blocked within 24 hours, while companies would have seven days to remove posts that are less clear-cut.”
“We must increase the pressure on social networks,” Maas said in a statement announcing the bill, adding that it “will set binding standards for how companies running social networks must handle complaints.”
German hate-speech law prohibits, among other things, promotion of Nazi ideology, denial of the Holocaust, and incitement of hatred based on race, religion, or ethnicity.
A German study released Tuesday found that while social media companies eventually deleted almost all offending posts, most did not do so within the time frame that would be set by Maas’s legislation, the Times reports. Facebook deleted 39 percent within 24 hours and Twitter just 1 percent. YouTube, however, managed 90 percent.
Facebook spokesman Klaus Gorny expressed disappointment with the results, saying, “We have clear rules against hate speech and work hard to keep it off our platform.”
Social media companies are studying the proposed legislation, but some in the past have voiced concerns about interference with free speech. Some German communications professionals praised the bill, however.
“It doesn’t mean that the internet will no longer be a free space,” Birgit Stark, head of the institute for communications at the University of Mainz, told the Times. “You can’t just defame people, just because it is the internet.”