10:07 GMT +316 October 2019
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    German flags wave in front of the Reichstag building, host of the German Federal Parliament Bundestag, in Berlin, Germany. (File)

    Anti-Social Media: German Minister Wants Hefty Fines for Online Hate Speech

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    As part of increasing moves on the part of governments to monitor public discourse, German Justice Minister Heiko Maas has called for additional laws – and big fines – for social networks as a means to counter hate speech online.

    According to a recent survey conducted by the German Justice Ministry, some social media platforms, including Twitter, delete almost no criminal or hateful posts. But Maas has warned that companies operating in Germany could be fined as much as 50 million euros ($53 million) under the new proposed laws if they are found negligent in monitoring their networks for hate speech and other criminal activities, according to Deutsche Welle.

    Facebook and YouTube are said to delete about half of the "offensive" content posted on their platforms, but for many in government that figure is not high enough.

    "We do not accept the fact that companies in Germany do not adhere to the law. Therefore in [the] future, if it doesn't get better, we will impose high fines on these companies," Maas, a Social Democrat, stated in introducing the law.

    Maas has previously proposed a law that would compel social media networks to provide quarterly accountability reports of their content-monitoring programs, one of many pieces of anti-hate speech legislation suggested by Berlin.

    Criticism of the new law has been framed in the debate over freedom of expression, as Renate Künast, a law expert aligned with Berlin's Green Party, suggested that Maas' proposed legislation is not wrong, but is not nuanced enough, and is more of a "rush job."

    "My fear, and that of many others," Künast said, "is that in the end the version now present[ed] will limit freedom of opinion."

    Under Maas' proposed legislation, social media platforms must offer their users "an easily recognizable, directly reachable, and constantly available" online help desk to report what is described as "prosecutable content." That content would ostensibly include threats, hate speech, intent to commit crimes, defamation and slander, according to Deutsche Welle.

    If the bill passes, it will mark the first and most clear-cut set of legal guidelines regarding the expression of online hate speech in Europe.

    On Wednesday the cabinet of German Chancellor Angela Merkel approved a draft of the proposed legislation.


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