Yesterday, German authorities said that they have imposed a 2 million-euro ($2.3 million) fine on Facebook under a law designed to combat hate speech. German authorities said that Facebook had provided “incomplete” information in mandatory transparency reports about illegal content, such as hate speech. Facebook received 1,704 complaints and removed 362 posts between January 2018 and June 2018. In the second half of 2018, the company received 1,048 complaints.
In a statement to Reuters, Germany’s Federal Office of Justice said that by tallying only certain categories of complaints, the web giant had created a skewed picture of the extent of violations on its platform. It says, “The report lists only a fraction of complaints about illegal content which created a distorted public image about the size of the illegal content and the way the social network deals with the complaints.” The agency said Facebook’s report did not include complaints relating to anti-Semitic insults and material designed to incite hatred against persons or groups based on their religion or ethnicity.
Germany’s NetzDG law has been criticized by experts
The NetzDG law, under which Facebook was fined, is Germany’s internet transparency law passed in 2017 for combating agitation and fake news in social networks. Under this law, commercial social networks are obliged to establish a transparent procedure for dealing with complaints about illegal content and are subject to a reporting and documentation obligation. Per the law, social media platform should check complaints immediately, delete “obviously illegal” content within 24 hours, delete any illegal content within 7 days after checking and block access to it. The deleted content must be stored for at least ten weeks for evidence purposes. In addition, providers must provide a service agent in Germany, both to the authorities and for civil proceedings and submit a six-monthly report on complaints received and how they have been dealt with.
However, the law has been on the receiving end of constant criticism from various experts, journalists, social networks, UN, and the EU. Experts said that short and rigid deletion periods and the high threat of fines would compromise freedom of speech of individuals. The social networks will be forced to remove contributions in case of doubt, even if they require a context-related consideration. Facebook had also criticized the NetzDG draft. In a statement sent to the German Bundestag at the end of May 2017, the company stated, “The constitutional state must not pass on its own shortcomings and responsibility to private companies. Preventing and combating hate speech and false reports is a public task from which the state must not escape.”
In response to the fine, Facebook said, “We want to remove hate speech as quickly and effectively as possible and work to do so. We are confident our published NetzDG reports are in accordance with the law, but as many critics have pointed out, the law lacks clarity.” “ We will analyze the fine notice carefully and reserve the right to appeal,” Facebook added.
Facebook is also facing privacy probes over its policies and data breaches and was fined by the EU for failing to give correct information during the regulatory review of its WhatsApp takeover. Last week, Italy’s privacy regulator fined Facebook €1 million for violations connected to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The agency said 57 Italians had downloaded a personality test app called ThisIsYourDigitalLife, which was used to collect Facebook information on both themselves and their Facebook friends. The app was then used to provide data to Cambridge Analytica, for targeting voters during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.