Germany holds social media companies to account for hate speech

File image (AAP) Source: AAP

A crackdown on illegal content being hosted on Facebook and Twitter in Germany could see social media companies face heavy fines.

Germany has approved plans that could see Facebook and Twitter fined for failing to remove illegal content.

The legislation is yet to pass German parliament, but it's expected that step will be a formality.

Under the proposed legislation, social media companies could be fined up to 50 million euros ($70 million) if they don't remove obviously criminal content within 24 hours of it being reported.

"With the laws which we present, we protect freedom of expression," German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said.

"Namely, the freedom of those who are to be silenced by threats, disgrace, hate and incitement, which we cannot accept."

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Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all ban hate speech, intimidation, and bullying.

But Mr Maas is keen for the outlets to be held accountable for any material which is published on their websites.

"The providers of social platforms are responsible if their platforms are being abused to spread hate crimes and fake news," Mr Maas said.

"There should be as little room for criminal rabble-rousing on social networks as there is out on the street."

Mr Maas cited a year-long study by the ministry which says Twitter only deletes one per cent of offending material within 24 hours of it appearing.

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Facebook's stats are better: they remove 39 per cent of material, but YouTube's figures stacked up the best - 90 per cent of content flagged by users is deleted.

Some in Australia would like to see Germany's hard-line stance replicated.

"We need to start taking fake news and hate speech and social media seriously," CEO of Online Hate Prevention Institute Dr Andre Oboler said.

"That sort of content should be illegal, it should be criminal, and we should stop it," Dr Oboler said.

Twitter and Facebook are yet to comment on the German parliament's decision.

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