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Following months of European scrutiny over the impact of major tech firms, Germany has passed a controversial law that could hold Facebook and Twitter highly accountable for the content they host.

Lawmakers in Germany passed a hotly debated law enabling the country to issue heavy fines to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms which leave up content that violates its laws governing hate speech. Known as the “Facebook law” among Germans, the approved Network Enforcement Act provides for fines of up to $57 million (€50 million) to companies which fail to take down “obviously illegal” content within 24 hours, and will go into effect in October.

As The Verge reported, Germany’s definition of such content includes hate speech, incitements to violence, and defamation–all of which have found their way onto Facebook in Germany, and virtually everywhere else. Under the new law, social media companies could face an initial fine of €5 million for continuing to host content considered illegal (not necessarily on the first offense), and see those fines rise as high as €50 million depending on subsequent steps and previous infractions.

Social media companies will also be required to publish semiannual reports on how many related complaints they’ve received about their content, and what was done about them. The Guardian noted that the new law also allows German authorities to issue fines of up to €5m to each company’s designated point-person for the issue if the company’s complaints procedure isn’t up to regulation.

– Photo: Syrian refugee Anas Modamani (C)  is suing Facebook over selfie photos of himself with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that he says were misused by Facebook users accusing him of being a terrorist or guilty of other crimes and which Facebook refused to remove. (Credit: Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)

Digital rights and free speech activists have criticized the law for its restrictiveness, and argued that it places too large a burden on social media companies to tackle the issue. German Justice Minister Heiko Maas argued today the ability to bring big consequences for companies was necessary in combating hate speech and radicalized content online. He commented in an address, “Experience has shown that, without political pressure, the large platform operators will not fulfill their obligations, and this law is therefore imperative … freedom of expression ends where criminal law begins.”

In an emailed statement, a Facebook representative told the Verge, “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 … We feel that the lack of scrutiny and consultation do not do justice to the importance of the subject. We will continue to do everything we can to ensure safety for the people on our platform.”

As The Guardian reported, the law has seen a few softening changes since Maas and other lawmakers began promoting the legislation. Companies will now have a week to consider flagged posts which aren’t as clearly illegal or protected, and can enlist outside vetters of content or even create shared vetting facilities. Users will also be able to appeal the decision if their content is removed.

Germany’s leading Jewish organization, the Central Council of Jews, told the Guardian that the law provides a “strong instrument against hate speech in social networks,” where Jews are being “exposed to antisemitic hatred [on] a daily basis.” Meanwhile, human rights experts have warned against potentially privatizing the censorship process and limiting free speech, and Germany’s leading nationalist part has announced it may challenge the law all the way to the top.

 

 

 

 

 

Resources/Related:

CyberSecurity

What does Facebook consider to be hate speech? | Facebook Help …

The Verge

Germany to Social Networks

Facebook: German bill isn’t ‘suitable’ to fight hate speech – Engadget

Bundestag passes law to fine social media companies for not deleting ..

Germany Votes To Fine Social Media Companies For Failing To … – NPR

Experts: Massive ‘Petya’ Attack Looks More Like State Cyber Warfare Than A Data Heist

Report: Facebook’s Content Rules ‘Favor Elites And Government’ Over Activists, People Of Color

 

 

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