Facebook’s (NASDAQ:FB) “fake news” problem may be about to cost the company a lot of money in fines. German politicians are considering a law that would fine the company €500,000 ($519,525) for each false news post it fails to take down within 24 hours. The legislation is being pushed by the Social Democrats, but also has the support of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats. The government wants to open debate on the new law after the Christmas recess.
Under a new law that specifically targets social media, the platforms would be forced to take action against the fake stories circulating on their networks. The rules would also require the companies to build offices in Germany to handle takedown demands on a timely basis. The rules would apply to both fake news and hate speech.
Germany’s current hate speech laws were originally enacted in 1949. The laws were intended to curb the types of incitement that were a staple of the World War II years, when they led fascism and atrocities. They have often been used to prosecute anti-Semitism and Holocaust deniers. In recent years, German prosecutors have used the law to curb hate speech against migrants.
The problem of fake news is becoming a major issue throughout Europe. Wildly inaccurate stories are outperforming legitimate stories, often racking up hundreds of thousands of shares.
There has been speculation that the spread of fake news helped Donald Trump win the US presidential election in November. German citizens now fear interference in next year’s election.
Facebook has faced intense criticism in recent weeks over the issue. CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially said it was “crazy” to suggest fake news on Facebook could have influenced the election. However, as more information has become available, the company has changed its tune.
Facebook has recently announced several new functions to address the issue of fake news and hoaxes. The social network plans to roll out fact-checking features in the near future that would let users know if an article they are sharing has been flagged as invalid. The company is also launching third-party fact-checking with help from the Poynter International Fact Checking Network and intends to investigate stories that become viral in suspicious ways.
Some blame the spread of fake news on Facebook’s well-documented struggle with editorial control over trending news stories. European Parliament President Martin Schulz is calling for EU-wide laws to halt the problem. In advocating for the laws, Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas said that any company that “achieves billions in the net has a social responsibility.”