German Social Media Fines: This Week in Digital

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Fake news, censorship and free speech are characteristics that dominate modern media. As contrasting opinions deepen in divide more than ever, hate speech and extremism is a growing problem on social media. To combat this, governments are attempting to regulate these major platforms. This week we focus on why the proposed German social media fines could be a catalyst to much bigger things.

As reported by BBC, if implemented these laws could massively alter how we manage debate on social platforms. Penalties of up to €50million ($57.1; £43.9m) could be imposed to social media giants if they fail to remove “obviously illegal” content in time.

From October; Facebook, YouTube, and other sites with more than two million users in Germany must take down posts containing hate speech or other criminal material within 24 hours. Content that is not obviously unlawful must be assessed within seven days. The new law is one of the toughest of its kind in the world.

German Social Media Fines: The Cause

The law follows several high-profile incidents of fake news and terrorist content spread on Facebook and YouTube in Germany. Although this issues is faced by most technologically advanced countries, Germans are eager to eradicate any facilitation of extremist rhetoric.

An example of which, is Syrian refugee Anas Modamani. He is now suing Facebook after a selfie with Angela Merkel became the target of far-right conspirators, according to Business Insider. It’s imperative to German governments that increased legislation will protect victims of hate speech.

“Our experience has shown that unfortunately, social media companies do not improve their procedures without political pressure,” said Justice Minister Heiko Mass, who oversaw the legislation.

Social networks will also have to publish a report every six months detailing how many complaints they received and how they dealt with them. Among those welcoming the law was Germany’s main Jewish organisation, which called it a “strong instrument against hate speech in social networks”.

Will it Help?

The efforts have been hailed in combating the nasty elements of social media, but we question the effectiveness of them. Unless this is a communal effort between multiple countries or a global governing body, how could one police such a crime?

One of the best functions of social media is the worldwide connectivity. However, should media companies be punished for messages targeting Germans where this law isn’t in place? We understand that it might increase overall moderation, but the level of usage and bots across platforms just seems insurmountable to manage properly.

And social media lobbyists concur. As reported by The Guardian, Facebook said in a statement:

“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.”

In fairness, they did also announce the hiring of 3,000 additional staff on top of 4,500 already working to review posts.

What Do You Think?

Are the German government just passing the buck, or is this the only way to properly police hateful social content? As always we love to hear your opinion so let us know.

In the meantime, we just ask that you remain vigilant on social platforms. If you see something intended to hurt or offend, simply report it. Debate in comments only validates those who go out to hurt and nothing silences more than taking their voice away.

If you want to stay up to date with everything digital, check in each Friday for our weekly series.