German Parliament passes controversial hate speech bill

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Berlin, July 1 (IANS) The German Federal Parliament (Bundestag) on Friday passed a bill which will require social media networks, such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, to delete content in clear breaches of hate speech laws within 24 hours of receiving a complaint.

In ambiguous cases of the above, network operators have a window of seven days to act. Widespread failure to comply with the new regulation could incur fines of up to 50 million euros ($57 million), Xinhua news agency reported.

Under Germany’s prevailing legal framework, hate speech includes the incitement to kill or be violent, threatening speech, abusive language, and sedition.

According to the new legislation, network operators are obliged to offer users an easily recognizable and immediately responsive process to lodge complaints about hate speech. Social media networks can pass the actual decision on to a shared independent oversight body for operators that is yet to be created. Such an institution would also be obliged to act within seven days.

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The law was passed with the votes of Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Christian Social Union (CSU) and Social Democrats (SPD), which together form a German coalition government.

Federal Minister of Justice Heiko Maas (SPD) defended the bill, which he championed as ending the “verbal jungle law” on the internet and protecting everyone’s freedom of expression.

“The past has shown: the big firms will not assume their responsibility without pressure,” Maas said.

The bill caused heavy controversy in the run up to its passing, with a diverse range of social media operators and civil rights and interest groups warning about its purported negative implications.

Alongside British Prime Minister Theresa May, German politicians have called on social media companies to do more to help governments combat terrorism.

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