Germany to fine Facebook €500,000 for every fake or hate-filled post

Social media giant will incur penalty if problematic post not removed within 24 hours

Germany has lost patience with Facebook.

After years of asking, cajoling and threatening the US social network to work faster to tackle fake news and hate speech, Berlin has announced a new law hitting Facebook with a €500,000 fine for every problematic post that doesn’t vanish within 24 hours.

A day after Facebook announced new procedures to tackle fake news, Berlin made clear it is no longer interested in self-regulation.

"Facebook didn't use the chance to regulate complaint management properly," said Thomas Oppermann, Bundestag floor leader of Germany's ruling Social Democrats (SPD) to Saturday's Der Spiegel.


After a "long and intensive effort to build bridges" with the company, he said, the SPD and its coalition partner, chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), have agreed to present new legislation in the new year.

It will oblige all dominant internet platforms operating in Germany to have a legal contact, operating round-the-clock, for victims of hate speech and fake news. At present, German Facebook users complain that complaints are forwarded to its international headquarters in Dublin – with an unclear response and action time.

“If, after checking, Facebook doesn’t delete the post in question within 24 hours, it can reckon with severe fines of up to €500,000,” said Mr Oppermann. In addition, he said, the person affected will be able to demand a “correction with the same reach” as the original post.

Do more

For years, German politicians have demanded Facebook do more to counter fake reports and hate speech on its network. Ms Merkel confronted Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg personally with the problem of racist posts in September 2015, when they sat beside each other at a dinner.

A year ago Facebook contracted German company Arvato, a subsidiary of the Bertelsmann media group, to examine controversial posts.

Some 600 people are now employed in Berlin to vet posts in several languages, but many complain of the huge physical and psychological strain of dealing with up to 2,000 often troubling posts per shift.

"I've seen things that made me seriously question my faith in humanity, like torture and bestiality," said one employee to the Süddeutsche Zeitung daily on Friday.

Some Arvato employees complained of having only eight seconds to deal with posts, working with vague or random criteria on what can and cannot be blocked.

For instance Facebook allows comments that refer to migrants as “dirty thieves” but not “terrorists, murderers, or sex offenders”. Posts that compare migrants with dirt or vermin are permitted if used in the adjective form but not if the comparison is a noun, as in “migrants are dirt”.

One Arvato employee told how a superior reversed his decision to ban a post showing an image of a hanged man. When he challenged the decision, he was told the post did not breach Facebook’s community rules, which views support for the death penalty as a legitimate political view.

When contacted by the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Facebook declined to comment on its screening procedures.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin