Germany Gives Social Media Companies a Break Over Hate Speech

"Children do not belong in the marriage registry office or the wedding hall" said Justice Minister Heiko Maas in a statement sent to AFPMore

If passed, it would be a landmark social media legislation against hate speech in Europe.

The legislation was proposed by Federal Minister of Justice Heiko Maas to "substantiate the existing obligation to remove hate crime and malicious fake news" by the operators of social media services.

However, organisations representing digital companies, consumers and journalists, accused the government of rushing a law to parliament that could damage free speech.

The companies would have 24 hours to remove any posts that openly violate German law after they are flagged by users.

Mr Maas said Twitter took down only 1 per cent, and Facebook 39 per cent, of the content reported by users that was deemed to flout Germany's anti-hate speech laws.

A spokesman for Facebook - which has 29 million active users in Germany, more than one-third of the total population - said the company was working hard to remove illegal content, but expressed concern at the draft law. "Therefore in future, if it doesn't get better, we will impose high fines on these companies", Maas told German broadcaster ARD's "Morgenmagazin" show. Critics have said the deadlines and fines are not reasonable and could see sites removing too much content, limiting free speech.

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Other offensive content would have to be deleted within seven days after it is reported.

"This legislation would force private companies rather than the courts to become the judges of what is illegal in Germany", he said, adding that Facebook's partner Arvato would employ up to 700 staff in Berlin for "content moderation" by year's end.

Maas said today the cabinet backing for the draft law paves the way for it to be adopted in Germany within the current legislative period.

The bill provoked a wave of criticism from opposition politicians, media companies and various network activists.

Twitter says it has introduced a raft of new measures to improve the situation, most recently announcing plans to "leverage its technology" to automatically spot accounts engaging in abusive behavior and limiting their functionality. He said the new bill would not restrict the freedom of expression, but intervene only when criminal hatred or intentionally false news are posted. "Even repulsive and ugly utterances - even lies can be covered by freedom of expression", he said.

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