German Chancellor and Chairwoman of the German Christian Democrats (CDU) Angela Merkel (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has shied away from aggressively regulating the spate of fake news on his network, putting more emphasis on getting users to flag it instead. Now the German government has its own idea for reining in Facebook’s fake news problem, by making it pay 500,000 euros ($522,000) per fake news post.
The German government is planning a law that will levy fines on Facebook, and it comes amid fears that viral fake news stories could affect national elections there in 2017. “If after the relevant checks Facebook does not immediately, within 24 hours, delete the offending post then [it] must reckon with severe penalties of up to 500,000 euros,” said Germany’s parliamentary chief of the Social Democrat party, Thomas Oppermann in an interview with Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine.
Ministers are preparing to introduce a bill next year that will order Facebook to compensate people who’ve been affected by fake or defamatory stories passed around on the site. Laws around defamation are stricter in Germany than in the United States.
The new law would also require Facebook and other social networks to set up a “legal protection unit” in Germany for people affected by the stories, according to Oppermann. These local offices would allow companies like Facebook to respond faster to complaints against defamation and fake news.
Both Oppermann’s party and coalition partner Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats party are considering the bill.
German lawmakers are concerned that Russia will try to undermine the Bundestag elections next year, following reports that Moscow intelligence was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Convention, and the leaks of thousands of emails of key aides to Hillary Clinton.
Independent researchers cited by The Washington Post also claim that a Russian propaganda campaign supported many of the popular fake news stories that undermined Clinton in the run-up to the election.
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has already warned that Russia could try to interfere with the country’s election with automated bots on Facebook and Twitter that share fake news stories.
Several members of the German government have spoken out about effectively criminalizing parties who deliberately propagate fake news on social media. “Targeting disinformation to destabilize a state should be a criminal offence,” Patrick Sensburg, a senior MP in Merkel’s party told the Funke group of German regional newspapers recently.
“Facebook is earning an awful lot of money with fake news,” Germany’s head of domestic intelligence, Hans-Georg Maassen, told Bild am Sonntag. “A company that earns billions from the internet also has a social responsibility.”
Merkel herself has raised concerns about “dealing with the phenomenon” of fake news spread by bots, and how that can be regulated.
Merkel will run for a fourth term when Germany’s parliamentary elections take place in September 2017.