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Germany warns Facebook and Twitter: Regulate fake news or pay

The German government is proposing new legislation that would fine social media platforms up to $53 million for failing to regulate and delete "criminal" content.

ST PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 16, 2016: Facebook logos reflected in a smartphone screen. Sergei Konkov/TASS (Photo by Sergei Konkov\TASS via Getty Images)
Sergei Konkov/TASS

A new piece of proposed German legislation would allow the country to fine social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter tens of millions of dollars for failing to adequately police user content that runs afoul of the law.

In a statement proposing the legislation, German Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection Heiko Maas says that free expression ends where criminal law begins, and that social media platforms have failed to do enough to take criminal content posted to their sites seriously.

Specifically, Maas points to "fake news" as potentially slanderous content that may, in some cases, violate German law. Under the proposed legislation, failure to regulate and delete that kind of content could net a social media platform like Facebook or Twitter a fine as high as €50 million -- or about $53 million.

As reported by The New York Times, German authorities are seeking, as a standard, the deletion of at least 70 percent of inappropriate and illegal posts within 24 hours of their being flagged. A yearlong study cited by the Times found that while platforms like YouTube are already exceeding this standard, others are falling well short of it -- most notably Facebook, which saw a deletion rate of only 39 percent, and Twitter, which came in at just 1 percent.

"We have clear rules against hate speech and work hard to keep it off our platform," a Facebook spokesperson told CNET. "We are committed to working with the government and our partners to address this societal issue. By the end of the year over 700 people will be working on content review for Facebook in Berlin. We will look into the legislative proposal by the Federal Ministry of Justice."

Twitter declined to comment, instead pointing to its policies and safety enforcement tools, which include a number of updates in recent weeks.