Germany is Attempting to Make Fake News Illegal

If the bill is passed into law, social media sites would need to be much more proactive about moderating content.

Facebook and Twitter might want to invest in some moderators soon — if a new bill passes through Germany’s legislative branch, the sites would be required to delete posts deemed to spread fake news or incite hate.

Ideas for the bill have been under discussion since last year, with a finalized version arriving this week. What’s most interesting about the bill is that it puts the onus on the sites, not the German courts, to determine whether or not a post is spreading fake news or inciting hate speech. The stakes will be high, too — if it appears that sites aren’t doing a satisfactory job, or if they haven’t taken down particularly egregious posts within 24 hours, they could be fined as much as €50 million.

It would be an enormous undertaking for both the German government and social media sites. While the law would only cover posts made within German borders, that still encompasses a massive number of posts that would need to be policed. Then again, Facebook and Twitter both have features in place for people to report posts as abusive, and Facebook has recently rolled out a sort of fake news discouragement feature — the argument would be that both sites now have the ability to identify abusive posts, but haven’t done a good enough job of actually weeding them out.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas, a supporter of the bill, wants similar laws across the European Union. That would make it even more difficult for Facebook and Twitter to police themselves, although often enough, moderation ends up being the cost of doing business in the EU for tech companies. Just ask Google, which has had to comply with the right to be forgotten since 2012 (in which individuals can request certain information about themselves to be delisted from Google’s search engine).

The main controversy around the bill will be over what you want to call it — what some call moderation, others call censorship. The main concern isn’t necessarily that the law would cut down on fake news and hate speech, but that neither of those things have been particularly well defined in the bill. A lack of clear definitions would, in time, reduce the law to a political tool to serve the whims of whoever happens to be in power.

That’s sure to be a concern with an upcoming federal election this September. Current chancellor Angela Merkel would no doubt like to avoid a situation like the one that played out in the United States elections last year, which has since been plagued with accusations that the Russian government used strategic dissemination of fake news stories to influence voters in key states and regions. The bill could be seen as a response to the increase in popularity of Alternative for Germany, a right-wing political party that has been associated with anti-refugee and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Via Washington Post