BERLIN (JTA) – Germany passed a bill designed to curb Holocaust denial on social networks.
Under the measure passed Friday by the parliament, social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube must remove material with obviously illegal content and fake defamatory “news” within 24 hours of it having been reported. Previously, illegal material did not have to be removed after being reported.
The law places the onus on the social media platforms to remove the material or be subject to heavy fines, reportedly as much as about $56 million.
Heiko Maas, Germany’s federal minister of justice, who submitted the proposed law for consideration in March, said the Internet would now be held to the same legal standards as other printed material. A study showed that major social media platforms were slow to react to reported illegal content – including slander, incitement to hate, Holocaust denial and glorification of national socialism, all of which are illegal in Germany.
The parliament passed the bill in its last meeting before summer break.
Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, praised the new law as a strong instrument against online hate speech and said an evaluation period would help determine its efficacy.
In an official statement, Schuster noted that social media has become a hotbed of anti-Semitic incitement, which is easily spread worldwide. Since platform operators generally failed to stick to agreements of a voluntary nature, “this law is the logical consequence,” he said.
Legislators from the Left Party and the Greens criticized the law over fears about granting Internet companies the power to set the boundaries for free speech online.
But Schuster said in his statement that curbing hate speech against minorities or religious groups “has nothing to do with freedom of expression. … The Internet must not become a free space.”
World Jewish Congress CEO Robert Singer had supported the bill.