Sunday 24 September 2017

Merkel backs fines to tackle 'fake news'

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged to hold social media networks to account
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged to hold social media networks to account

Stefan Nicola and Birgit Jennen

Germany has pushed ahead with legislation that threatens social networks such as Facebook with fines of as much as €50m if they fail to give users the option to complain about hate speech and fake news or refuse to remove illegal content.

On Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet backed a bill that would also force the companies to purge content flagged as child pornography or inciting terrorism - two categories added to the original draft. Corporate officials responsible would risk separate fines of as much as €5m.

If passed by parliament, the measures would be the toughest regulation Facebook faces in any country where it operates.

"Social-network providers are responsible when their platforms are misused to propagate hate crimes and fake news," Justice Minister Heiko Maas said in an emailed statement.

The goal is to make social networks enforce German laws on illegal content "quickly and in full," he said.

Ms Merkel's governing coalition, which includes the country's two biggest parties, is increasing pressure on social networks to curb the spread of fake news and malicious posts ahead of Germany's election on September 24.

Facebook has about 29 million users in Germany, and has previously said it will work with independent fact-checkers in the country to identify fake news and tag such stories with a warning.

Before the bill's approval by the cabinet, the government dropped a requirement that would have obliged social networks to stop the renewed upload of content previously identified as illegal. Chancellor Merkel's coalition wants to adopt the law before the election, Mr Maas said.

A Facebook representative in Germany declined to immediately comment.

In January, Facebook announced a partnership with German third-party fact-checking organisation Correctiv, promising to update its social media platforms in Germany "within weeks" to reduce the dissemination of fake news.

Mr Maas and other members of the ruling coalition have called for social networks to be held to higher content standards demanded of media broadcasters instead of hands-off rules applied to telecom operators.

The speed of action being taken in Germany in relation to social media reflects fears among the political establishment that fake news and racist content on social media could influence public opinion in this year's election campaign - especially linked to the one million migrants and refugees who have arrived in the country since 2015. (Bloomberg/ Reuters)

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