Germany starts enforcing online hate speech law

Germany is set to start enforcing a law that demands social media sites move quickly to remove hate speech, fake news and illegal material.

Sites that do not remove “obviously illegal” posts could face fines of up to 50m euro (£44.3m).

The law gives the networks 24 hours to act after they have been told about law-breaking material. Social networks and media sites with more than two million members will fall under the law’s provisions.

Starting today, Germany will fine social networks up to to €50 million (roughly $58 million) should they fail to remove posts containing hate speech within 24 hours, or seven days for “complex cases.” The law, known as the Network Enforcement Act (or NetzDG), went into effect in October, but provided a grace period through the end of 2017.

Although it was met with criticism and concerns over free speech and censorship, the law was nevertheless passed in Germany, which has some of the world’s toughest laws against defamation and hate crimes. In June, German police raided the homes of 36 people accused of hate speech or other illegal content.

The German law is the most extreme example of efforts by governments and regulators to rein in social media firms and the content that is posted on them. Many of them have come under much greater scrutiny this year as information about how they are used to spread propaganda and other sensitive material has come to light.

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