BERLIN Dec 16 Top officials in Germany's ruling
coalition said on Friday they planned legislation to crack down
on "hate speech" and fake news on Facebook and other social
media platforms, and impose stiff penalties if such messages
were not quickly removed.
Politicians are worried about how hate speech and fake news
could sway public opinion ahead of elections next year in which
Merkel will be running for a fourth term and facing an
increasingly popular far right.
"There has only been talk for too long. Now we in the
coalition will take action at the beginning of next year,"
Volker Kauder, a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's
Christian Democrats (CDU), said in a statement.
Facebook Inc FB.O said on Thursday it would take measures
to prevent fake news spreading on its platform. Users would find
it easier to flag fake articles as a hoax, and organizations
would be deployed to check facts.
The statement suggested the ruling coalition was not
altogether convinced by the steps announced by Facebook.
Kauder said the legislation would require social media
companies to set up offices that would respond to complaints
from people affected by hateful messages within 24 hours.
"We plan to impose high penalties that would affect
companies like Facebook if they do not meet their
responsibilities," Kauder said.
Thomas Oppermann, who heads the Social Democrats in
parliament, told Der Spiegel magazine Facebook could face fines
of up to 500,000 euros if they did not remove fake news and
other inappropriate messages within 24 hours.
"Facebook did not avail itself of the opportunity to
regulate the issue of complaint management itself," Oppermann
told Spiegel. "Now market dominating platforms like Facebook
will be legally required to build a legal protection office in
Germany that is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year."
German Justice Minister Heiko Maas told Sueddeutsche Zeitung
newspaper the government was carefully monitoring Facebook's
approach to removing illegal content and would draw "urgent
legal consequences" if removal rates did not increase.
"We expect clear improvements in Facebook's removal
practice. The standard must be German law," the paper quoted him
Germany is seen as a front-runner when it comes to forcing
Facebook to step up efforts to police online hate speech, which
has risen here following an influx of almost one million
migrants, mainly from the Middle East, last year.
The issue of fake news has taken on new importance in recent
weeks after warnings by German and U.S. intelligence agencies
that Russia is seeking to influence elections and sway public
opinion in both countries.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Thorsten Severin; editing by