Germany set to fine social media platforms millions over hate speech

Wednesday, 15 March, 2017 - 00:30

A new draft German law would fine social media firms up to €50 million if they fail to remove hate speech, jumping ahead of EU plans. The European Commission is still weighing up whether it will propose rules to crack down on online hate speech.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) has lost his patience with big tech firms. He had been speaking out against their slow response to online hate speech for months. In an effort to defuse growing tensions, Facebook hired extra staff in Germany last year just to deal with social media users’ complaints more quickly.

Maas proposed a new law today (14 March) that would require social media platforms remove “obviously” illegal hate speech within 24 hours and less obvious illegal speech within seven days. If they don’t comply with the rules, companies face fines of up to €50 million. Individual people working at social media firms face penalties of up to €5 million.

The draft bill still needs to be approved by the German government and Bundestag. Maas told reporters today he thinks it can pass before the German elections on 24 September.

The European Commission has been wary of introducing a new law to deal with hate speech. Instead, EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova has gone for a softer approach and signed a voluntary agreement with Google, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft last May asking the companies to remove posts within 24 hours.

But she will announce in May whether the Commission might get tougher.