As Germany begins to enforce its recently-passed hate speech law, Facebook and other social networks will be facing hefty fines if they are not able to comply.
Social networks – especially Facebook and YouTube – have been scrambling to solve a big problem that became very apparent throughout last year: their platforms are rife with hate speech, fake news, and illegal material. Of course, all have their own reasons for trying to clean up. On one hand, Facebook wants to make sure it’s not used by “bad actors” to influence elections, on the other, YouTube is leaking advertisers. Twitter – while it has also been involved – hasn’t faced as much condemnation. Despite this, it, too, is cleaning up its act. If it doesn’t, there will be consequences. In this case, fines of up to €50m from the German government.
It all begins with the Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz (NetzDG), a law passed in Germany in October of 2017, which stipulates that Social networks need to act a lot faster after a specific piece of content has been flagged. In fact, it allows them 24 hours to remove illegal material after it has been reported/flagged. More “complex cases” will get one week to be dealt with.
Under NetzDG, all social networks or media platforms that have over 2 million users, are included – so it’s not just Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter‘s problem. It will apply to other sites like Flickr, Vimeo, Tumblr, or Reddit – and perhaps even VK, although I doubt the German government’s ability to touch the latter.
As well as report or flag content on the sites themselves, users can also use one of the forms on the German justice ministry’s website to report content that hasn’t been removed in time. With Facebook’s weak track record of dealing with hate speech, as pointed out by ProPublica recently, it looks like the company has a bit of a problem on its hands. Despite working very hard to build a system to effectively deal with, and remove objectionable content, neither Facebook or YouTube have had much luck. In any case, NetzDG will force social media companies to revisit their complaints structures and make them more effective.
While the new law is a step in the right direction – in the sense that it forces social networks to act more effectively – it is also controversial as it is feared it may spawn censorship or stifle free speech if social networks go overboard in their efforts to comply with draconian rules and regulations imposed by governments.
What do you think?