Germany's cabinet approved a proposed law on Wednesday that will require social media companies to proactively report illegal content to the police or face fines of up to 50 million euros ($54 million).
Content including hate speech, racial incitement, terrorism-related posts and child abuse imagery must already, according to existing German law. Under the proposed law, such content would also have to be reported to the Office of the Federal Criminal Police as and when it's discovered. Social media companies would be required to provide the police with the last IP address related to the user account responsible for the illegal content.
"The flood of inhumane sedition and threats on the internet is lowering the inhibition threshold," said Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht. "We will combat this with the new bill."
The law was first proposed following a terror attack in eastern Germany last October, in which a gunman attempted to attack a synagogue on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, ultimately killing two people. On Wednesday, the Federal Cabinet -- comprised of the chancellor and federal ministers -- waved through the proposal, which must now be voted on in the Bundestag, Germany's parliament.
Germany has been at the forefront of policing the internet and is keen to take firm action against illegal online content. It's taken the stance that the responsibility for dealing with such content falls squarely on the shoulders of the internet platform on which it's been posted. The country has strict rules on dealing with hate speech and the government is now asking social media companies to play an active role in identifying the perpetrators.
Germany's approach to dealing with hate speech is in stark contrast with the rest of the EU, which instead of passing laws. Critics of the German strategy have suggested it paves the way towards internet censorship. Lawmakers in Germany's parliament must now look at how to balance freedom of expression and the right to anonymity online with keeping people safe and preventing the further spread of hate speech.