Facebook, Twitter face fines up to $53M over hate speech

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Merkel's governing coalition, which includes the country's two biggest parties, is increasing pressure on social networks to curb the spread of fake news and malicious posts ahead of Germany's election on September 24.

BERLIN, April 5 The German cabinet approved a plan on Wednesday to fine social networks such as Facebook up to 50 million euros ($53 million) if they do not remove hateful postings quickly and to make them reveal the identity of those behind the posts.

"There can be just as little space on social networks for criminal acts as on the street", Maas argued, in defense of the high penalty.

Maas also said that measures to combat hate speech and so-called fake news will ultimately have to be taken at the European level to be effective.

Social networks are already required to remove illegal content from their websites as soon as they are aware of it, according to German law. Other offensive content would need to be removed within seven days of being reported and reviewed.

"We work very hard to remove illegal content from our platform and are determined to work with others to solve this problem", the company said in a statement.

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"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. It also seeks to make it easier for social media users to report offensive conduct.

We've reached out to Facebook, Twitter and Google for comment and will update this story with any response.

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 highly anticipated draft bill, several months in the making, is also highly contentious, with critics denouncing it as a curb on free speech.

Organisations representing digital companies, consumers and journalists, accused the government of rushing a law to parliament that could damage free speech. Maas said freedom of expression has a "huge meaning" in German democracy.

Even some NGOs, such as the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, which campaigns against right-wing parties, racism and anti-Semitism, said that the new bill is "in fact a limitation of the freedom of expression".