Germany gives social networks 24 hours to delete criminal content

Schnell! Designated complaint handlers could cop €5m Euro fine, networks could wear €50m

Germany has followed through on its proposal to make social networks remove slanderous hate speech and fake news or face massive fines.

The nation's Bundesministerium der Justiz und für Verbraucherschutz (Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection) has announced that cabinet approved a plan to force social network operators to create a complaints mechanism allowing members of the public to report content that online translate-o-tronic services categorise as “insults, libel, slander, public prosecutions, crimes, and threats.”

The Bill approved by Cabinet proposes that social networks be required to establish complaints officer who is subject to local law and gets the job of removing obviously criminal content 24 hours after receiving a complaint. A seven-day deadline will apply to content that's not immediately identifiable as infringing. Social networks will also be required to inform complainants of the outcome of their takedown requests and to provide quarterly summaries of their activities.

The ministry's statement also suggests that those who feel aggrieved by material posted about them should be able to learn the true identity of the poster.

A Faktenpapier (PDF) on the Bill says that if the deadlines mentioned above aren't met the social network's designated complaints-handler could be fined up to five million Euros, while the network itself could cop a fine of 50 million Euros. An appeal to Germany's courts will be possible.

As we explained when this Bill was first floated, interior minister Heiko Maas believes the law is a necessary continuation of strong hate speech laws already on Germany's books. Maas also hopes the Bill becomes a model for similar legislation across the European Union.

Left un-explained, however, is how Germany proposes to enforce the bill. Large social networks that sell ads may well have presences in Germany and will find it easy to appoint a complaints officer. Other, smaller, social networks have no local presence and are also less likely to curb hate speech and defamation. Indeed, the attraction of some smaller social networks is that they have less regulation than larger rivals, leaving Germans – and the rest of us – without recourse against many potential sources of defamation and hate speech. ®

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