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Germany Votes To Fine Social Media Companies For Failing To Remove Hate Speech


Germany passed a law today to crack down on hate speech. Big social media companies like Facebook and Twitter will face fines of up to $57 million if they don't quickly remove offensive posts from their sites. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has more from Berlin.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: The new law requires social networking sites to remove within 24 hours any offensive post that violates German hate speech provisions. More ambiguous content that is offensive must be blocked within a week. German Justice Minister Heiko Maas is the driving force behind the law that he hopes will curb hate crimes here, most of which are directed at migrants and refugees. Such crimes have shot up by more than 300 percent over the past two years.


HEIKO MAAS: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Maas told the German Parliament the law is necessary because 14 months of talks with social media companies failed to end the online abuse. Germany's Central Council for Jews also praised the measure, calling it a strong instrument against hate speech in social networks. But opponents say the law leaves it up to social media managers to decide whether content complies with German law.


RENATE KUENAST: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Green Party MP Renate Kuenast argued the rush to pass the measure proved the urge to erase offensive speech was greater than the urge to protect freedom and rights online. Facebook said this law as it stands now will not improve efforts to tackle important societal problems. Meanwhile, the right-wing populist party Alternative for Germany is threatening to challenge the measure in court.


NELSON: It posted this somber tune on its website along with a picture of a gravestone listing June 30 as the day free speech died in Germany. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOSS OF AURA'S "SWEAT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.