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Germany’s coalition government is threatening to bring in legislation early next year that would see Facebook and other social media firms fined up to €500,000 (£420,000) for “publishing” fake news.
“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,” parliamentary chair of the Social Democratic Party Thomas Oppermann told Der Spiegel, which was translated on Deutsche Welle.
“If, after appropriate examination, Facebook does not delete the offending message within 24 hours, it should expect individual fines of up to 500,000 euros,” Oppermann said. The subject of a fake news story would be able to demand a correction published with similar prominence, he added.
Volker Kauder, a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, agreed with his colleague: “There has been only talk for too long. Now we in the coalition will take action at the beginning of next year.”
Ars asked Facebook—which recently vowed to outsource fact checking in order to fight fake news—for comment on this move. It said:
We take the issues raised very seriously, and we are engaging with key politicians and digital experts from all parties and relevant ministries interested in this matter. Our announcement last week underlines our efforts to improve our systems. We have announced several new functions that address the issue of fake news and hoaxes.
Other German politicians have joined the call for swift action against fake news on sites such as Facebook. The Guardian reported that Germany’s justice minister, Heiko Maas, told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper: “Defamation and malicious gossip are not covered under freedom of speech,” and that “Justice authorities must prosecute that, even on the Internet.” He pointed out that those convicted under the country’s strict libel laws face up to five years in jail.
European Parliament President Martin Schulz has gone further, however, and called for EU-wide laws to tackle the problem. “Fake news should become expensive for companies like Facebook if they don’t stop its spread,” Schulz reportedly said. “Facebook and Co. must be more than money-making machines,” he added.
Germany’s concern with fake news seems to be driven in part by fears that it could influence next year’s elections there, just as it may have done in the US.
This post originated on Ars Technica UK