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German vote approves harsher fines for illegal social content

Tim Maytom

Social media companies in Germany will face fines of up to €50m (£44m) if they fail to remove “obviously illegal” content within 24 hours, thanks to a newly passed law that will apply to all social media sites with more than 2m users.

The new law, which will apply from October, will give social media firms seven days to assess content that is not obviously unlawful but reported as abusive, hateful or offensive. Failure to comply will result in a €5m penalty, which could rise as high as €50m depending on the severity of the offence.

The Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz (NetzDG) law was passed on the last legislative day before the Bundestag’s summer break, and has been debated for several months by German members of parliament. During that period, Facebook suffered a leak of its content review laws which revealed exactly how it treated content that was reported as offensive or inappropriate.

Facebook has already offered a statement on the law, saying that it shares the goal of the German government in fighting hate speech, but believes the legislation will not necessarily help.

“We believe the best solutions will be found when government, civil society and industry work together and that this law as it stands now will not improve efforts to tackle this important societal problem,” said a Facebook spokesperson.

The law has also faced criticism from human rights groups and free speech advocates, who say that the tight time frames are too unrealistic, and will lead to social media companies erring on the side of caution to avoid paying fines, and therefore lead to unintentional censorship of ambiguous posts.

“Many of the violations covered by the bill are highly dependent on context, context which platforms are in no position to assess,” said David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur to the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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