Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Germany Gets Really Serious About Fake News on Facebook

  • Pre-election threat of $53 million penalty also targets hate
  • Germany steps up pressure on social networks before 2017 vote

Germany pushed ahead with legislation that threatens social networks such as Facebook Inc. with fines of as much as 50 million euros ($53 million) if they fail to give users the option to complain about hate speech and fake news or refuse to remove illegal content.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet on Wednesday backed a bill that would also force the companies to purge content flagged as child pornography or inciting terrorism -- two categories added to the original draft. Corporate officials responsible would risk separate fines of as much as 5 million euros. If passed by parliament, the measures would be the toughest regulation Facebook faces in any country where it operates.

Read more: Germany Threatens $53 Million Fine in Facebook Hate-Speech Bill

“Social-network providers are responsible when their platforms are misused to propagate hate crimes and fake news,” Justice Minister Heiko Maas said in an emailed statement. The goal is to make social networks enforce existing German laws on illegal content “quickly and in full,” he said.

Merkel’s governing coalition, which includes the country’s two biggest parties, is increasing pressure on social networks to curb the spread of fake news and malicious posts ahead of Germany’s election on Sept. 24. Facebook has about 29 million users in Germany, and has previously said it will work with independent fact-checkers in the country to identify fake news and tag such stories with a warning.

Facebook is “working very hard to remove illegal content from our platform,” the company said in an emailed statement. It expressed concern that the measure “would force private companies instead of courts to decide which content is illegal in Germany.”

Before the bill’s approval by the cabinet, the government dropped a requirement that would have obliged social networks to stop the renewed upload of content previously identified as illegal. Merkel’s coalition wants to adopt the law before the election, Maas said.

Facebook Using Third-Party Fact-Checkers vs. Fake News
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