Social networks to face huge fines in Germany for not removing ‘illegal content’ in 24 hours

While the law doesn't necessary expand what's considered "illegal content" in Germany, critics worry it will turn social networks into opinion police.

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As of yesterday, Germany began to enforce its anti-hate speech and illegal content law (“NetzDG”), originally passed in mid-2017. It targets publishers and social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and YouTube, that have more than 2 million members or users.

The law, translated as the Network Enforcement Act, requires “obviously illegal” material to be removed within 24 hours after the site owner is notified of the violation. In more complex or gray area cases, there’s a seven-day time frame. Fines for non-compliance could be up to 50 million euros, which is roughly $60 million.

The law extends beyond hate speech and encompasses “fake news” and a range of other illegal content. The delayed enforcement of the law was intended to give social networks and others potentially impacted time to prepare to comply.

The law was passed in mid-2017 as a reaction against the fake news, Russian content manipulation and other social media controversies of 2016 and early 2017 and frustration with self-policing efforts. Racist content, xenophobic, right-wing nationalist content, content inciting terrorism and content spreading child pornography are also included in the law.

While the law doesn’t appear to expand the scope of what’s considered illegal under German law, it has been criticized on a number of grounds, including vagueness and as a potential threat to free speech. It has also been denounced by those who want a pan-European solution instead of isolated national efforts. Many also have concerns that the law turns social media sites into “opinion police.”

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About the author

Greg Sterling
Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor to Search Engine Land, a member of the programming team for SMX events and the VP, Market Insights at Uberall.

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