Social media sites fined in Germany for hate speech

Social media sites fined in Germany for hate speech

Hacker

Social media giants are obliged to remove hate content within 24 hours or one week in Germany failing which they face a fine of up to 50 million euros, according to Andreas Kindl, director of strategic communication of the Federal Foreign Office.

Addressing journalists from 18 countries who were on an information tour on the invitation of the Federal Foreign Office, Germany, Kindl says that according to the Network Enforcement Act, social media companies must publish a transparency report twice a year.

Facebook was once forced to act following public outrage. "Facebook had blocked a New York Times post which had an image of naked chemical attack victim during the Vietnam War on the grounds that it was nudity. But there was strong opposition to Facebook’s actions, saying it amounted to an infringement of freedom of speech," says Hendrik Zoner, Press Speaker of the German Federation of Journalists.

The government doesn’t get into the act of debunking fake news. "The only instance the German government had to intervene was in the Lisa case, where the 13-year-old Russian-German girl had alleged in a social media post that she was raped by immigrants. Though the news turned out to be fake, it had caused an international uproar with the Russian foreign minister stepping in," says Kindl.

One reason why the government adopts a hands-off approach is the media funding system in Germany. Dr Carola Richter, professor at the Free University of Berlin says, "The media is governed by an independent Press Council and is publicly funded, with each household paying 17 Euro a month." This is to prevent government influence on media. "The Press Council can take up complaints and issue a reprimand, which the offending media house has to publish," says Dr Richter.

"There is no doubt about public TV’s independence," Thomas Hacker, member of Parliament of the Federal Democratic Party (FDP), in the German Bundestag and Committee on Cultural and Media Affairs, says.

However, the right-wing AfD (Alternative for Deutschland) member in the Bundestag Martin Erwin Renner says the press was generally free but was politically active. "We are giving away too much of responsibility to the media, though there is hate speech," he says, calling for the modification of the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) model, and a revamp of the overseeing body.

"They get funds and have the influence of the government. They have a critical eye on the right-wing, which is also ostracised," adds Renner.

Differing with Renner, Hacker says, "The time given to AfD is more than their representation in Parliament."

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