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Hate speech – Germany threatens social media firms with sanctions

Social media operators in Germany should “significantly” cut down on hate speech or face sanctions, Justice Minister Heiko Maas has said.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas
Justice Minister Heiko Maas

In an interview with German media outlet “Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland” (RND), Mr Maas said his ministry was seeking sanctions within the Audiovisual Media Services Directive being revised by the EU to fit digital trends of the 21st century.

There has been a surge in xenophobic posts since Germany opened its borders last year to hundreds of thousands of refugees.

The minister accused social media firms of being “too slow” to delete hateful content. He also accused them of making “too few” deletions.

“In Europe we’re currently discussing the audiovisual directive,” Mr Maas said, adding that it would regulate media providers’ material, including social media outlets that were currently “privileged” in not paying for such content, DW reported.

Meanwhile veteran German criminologist Christian Pfeiffer has called for reforms of Germany’s Telemedia Law to compel social media operators to reveal online perpetrators.

He said prosecutors were finding it difficult to obtain data on perpetrators, DW reported. Hate speech postings would drop when individuals were put on trial, Mr Pfeifer said.

The criminologist told German public radio Deutschlandfunk that Germany’s Telemedia Act should be amended to create room for “spectacular” criminal trials to set examples.

“Our justice minister Maas has tried for over a year to stem it on a voluntary basis. The Bundestag [parliament] has done its part by sharpening penalties for those who perpetrate hate offences.

“But the flow is not declining because no chance exists for state attorneys to trace the perpetrators, although Facebook and the others know exactly who they are, but they don’t disclose this,” Mr Pfeiffer said.

DW reported that last December, Facebook, Twitter and Google pledged to remove offensive posts in Germany within 24 hours. Users however say their requests to take down hate speech often go unheeded.

Volker Kauder, a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU, recently suggested that social media companies should pay for failing to remove online hate comments. He said if social media companies failed to remove offensive comments within a week, they should be slapped with a 50,000 euro fine.