The German Justice Ministry has introduced a draft law that would impose fines of up to €50 million ($53.2 million) on social media companies that fail to quickly remove hate speech and other illegal content from their platforms. Justice Minister Heiko Maas presented the proposed law at a press conference on Tuesday.
According to the Associated Press, the fines would be imposed whenever Facebook or other web companies do not swiftly remove online threats, hate speech, or slanderous fake news. The ministry is also calling on social media companies to name one person responsible for handling complaints. In cases where companies fail to comply with the regulations, that person could face a fine of up to €5 million, according to the AP.
The proposed measures were announced alongside a report which found that Twitter removes just one percent of illegal content reported by users, and that Facebook removes 39 percent. YouTube, by comparison, removed 90 percent of flagged material. The study, conducted over January and February, found that just 33 percent of illegal Facebook content was blocked or removed within 24 hours; none of the reported Twitter posts were removed within that time frame.
In a statement, Maas said “it is now clear that we must further increase the pressure on social networks. We need legal regulations to make companies even more obligated to eradicate criminal offenses.”
Germany has long taken a tough stance on hate speech and defamation, and it has increasingly pressured US tech companies to more aggressively combat such material online. In 2015, Facebook, Google, and Twitter agreed to review and remove reported hate speech in Germany within 24 hours, and Maas has suggested that Facebook should be treated as a media company under German law. Facebook recently introduced its fake news filter in Germany, as well, amid concerns that disinformation campaigns could influence upcoming national elections.
Under the law proposed Tuesday, any obviously illegal content would have to be deleted within 24 hours; reported material that is later determined to be illegal would have to be removed within seven days.
In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson said: “We have clear rules against hate speech and work hard to keep it off our platform. We are committed to working with the government and our partners to address this societal issue. By the end of the year over 700 people will be working on content review for Facebook in Berlin. We will look into the legislative proposal by the Federal Ministry of Justice.”
A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment on the proposed law, pointing instead to recent steps the company has taken to reduce abusive content.
March 14th, 9:28AM ET: This article has been updated to include statements from Twitter and Facebook.