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.
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.