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German Government Considers Hefty Fines for Sites That Fail to Address Fake News

Photo: Alexmumu/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Officials in the German government are considering comprehensive regulations for platforms — like Facebook — that are easily turned into machines for misinformation. According to Deutsche Welle, Social Democratic Party parliamentary chairman Thomas Oppermann has proposed rapid-response teams for people smeared by falsified stories.

“Facebook did not avail itself of the opportunity to regulate the issue of complaint management itself,” Oppermann told “Der Spiegel” magazine in an interview published on Friday. “Now market dominating platforms like Facebook will be legally required to build a legal protection office in Germany that is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”

This would allow victims of fake news and hate messages to contact the platform, prove that they have been targeted and asking for action to be taken.

The proposed penalty for platforms that do not adequately respond to service would be €500,000 ($531,000).

Speaking to Ars Technica, Facebook said:

We take the issues raised very seriously, and we are engaging with key politicians and digital experts from all parties and relevant ministries interested in this matter. Our announcement last week underlines our efforts to improve our systems. We have announced several new functions that address the issue of fake news and hoaxes.

The proposal is an interesting measure against a growing issue for large social-media platforms. But there are a number of potential issues. For one thing, €500,000 is chump change to a company like Facebook, which has a market capitalization north of $300 billion. Second, intent and practice are two different things. Much of the debate surrounding the catchall category of “fake news” concerns what actually constitutes “fake,” rather than “slanted” or “mistaken” versus “willfully untrue.” It’s not difficult to imagine something like this being taken advantage of in the the same way that copyright trolls abuse YouTube’s takedown system.

It may also end up being a moot gesture. Facebook has spent much of the last year testing new interfaces for its News Feed and placing bets on its many other products, like Messenger, and it’s not at all hard to imagine that Facebook in the future will — like Facebook-owned Instagram — disallow external links entirely, or severely limit them. What’s the point of regulating content you can’t control when it’d be easier — and better for your business — to get rid of it entirely?

Germany Considers Fining Sites That Don’t Remove Fake News