Germany Threatens Social Media Giants With $56m Fines Over Hate Speech, Including Holocaust Denial

Jewish groups praise the move, which is designed to curb hate speech and libel across social media platforms

A screenshot of a response on Twitter to London mayor Sadiq Khan's tweet about commemorating the Holocaust, May 8, 2016.
Twitter

Germany’s top Jewish leader has praised a new law passed on Friday that is designed to curb hate speech and libel on social networks.

The German parliament passed the law in the Bundestag’s last meeting before its summer break. It requires Internet platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to remove material with obviously illegal content and fake defamatory “news” within 24 hours of its having been reported. Previously, illegal material was reported but did not have to be removed.

The new law places the onus on the social media platforms to remove the material or be subjected to heavy fines, reportedly of up to about $56 million.

Heiko Maas, Germany’s Federal Minister of Justice, who had submitted the proposed law for consideration in March, said the Internet would now be held to the same legal standards as other printed material. A study had shown that major social media platforms were slow to react to reported illegal content – including slander and incitement to hate, as well as Holocaust denial and glorification of National Socialism, all of which are illegal in Germany.

Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, praised the new network law as a strong instrument against online hate speech, and added that an evaluation period would help determine its efficacy.

In an official statement, he noted that social media has become a hotbed of anti-Semitic incitement, which is easily spread worldwide. Since platform operators generally failed to stick to agreements of a voluntary nature, “this law is the logical consequence.”

Criticism of the law came from legislators from the Left Party and the Greens, who said they worried about granting Internet companies the power to set the boundaries for free speech online.

But Schuster said in his statement that curbing hate speech against minorities or religious groups “has nothing to do with freedom of expression. The Internet must not become a free space.”

World Jewish Congress CEO Robert Singer had also supported Maas’ proposed law.

The Bundestag also passed a law that holds customers – and not providers – responsible for downloading illegal music that comes through their servers.