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Europe could follow Germany in social media hate laws

European countries may consider harsher penalties for extremist social media content, after Germany passed a law requiring platforms to delete hateful messages within 48 hours.

Under the new law passed in on Friday, social media platforms will now be required to delete content visible in Germany that has been flagged and confirmed as containing hate speech, racist or anti-Semitic content, terrorist incitement or propaganda, paedophilia, or intentionally false news or information.

Failure to do so will land the platforms with a fine of up to 50 million euros, and every six months, the companies will also need to present a report detailing each piece of flagged content, and how they dealt with it.

The person responsible for the offending content could also be liable for a fine of up to 5 million euros.

The law will come into force should it be approved by the high chamber in the German parliament (the Bundesrat), which works in a similar way to the UK’s House of Lords, in that it has the power to change or reject laws from the Bundestag (Commons).

Freedom of speech in Europe

UK Prime Minister Theresa May is among the European leaders to say she could consider harsher legislation against social media platforms, including fines.

However, this approach has been criticised by some anti-terrorism groups and the social media companies themselves, who have suggested the plans could threaten free speech, and risk mimicking the actions of totalitarian states.

France, and Germany especially, are already known as having some of the toughest laws against hate speech in Europe, with infringement of privacy, death threats and Holocaust denying particularly penalised.

Heiko Maas, the German Justice Minister, has said that this kind of content shouldn’t be seen as part of ‘free speech’, but as a direct ‘attack on the freedom of expression of others’.

Facebook has issued a statement in response to the German law, saying that if passed, it will ‘not improve’ the situation, as Facebook already ‘does everything [it] can’ to be alert to hate speech, having employed 3,000 new people on its moderation team in recent months.

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