GERMANY HAS passed new laws that will fine internet companies for failing to remove "obviously illegal" content, to whit, "hate speech".
From the autumn, any site with more than two million users in Germany will have to remove any criminal content within 24 hours, or any ambiguous content within seven days, to allow time for analysis and debate.
Fines for non-compliance will be pegged at €5m, rising to €50m for a particularly extreme breach.
The decision was made by the law, known as Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz or NetzDG for short, before parliament's summer recess. There is some concern that the legislation has therefore been rushed through to clear the decks and contains some serious flaws.
Critics express concern that it will lead to a culture of over-zealous enforcement which will, in turn, lead to unjustified censorship, as tech companies such as Google, Twitter and Facebook dive to smother any remotely ambiguous content to avoid fines.
Germany is particularly sensitive to the issue of fake news because of the potential for raking up issues from its past - Nazi imagery for example - but also after a number of high-profile cases of hate speech and alleged thought crime with one MP accused of holding sympathies with a refugee who murdered a student.
Critics have questioned whether seven days is enough time to explore the nuances involved in sensitive phrases - the obvious one in English would be the "n" word, but in Germany, phrases involving "Heil" for example need to be considered.
The law also falls foul of some of the strictest internet privacy laws in the world which will cause further concern among the security community.
The law may yet crash and burn in EU courts, if it turns out, as some have argued that it breaches EU laws. Equally, with the Bundestag due for elections this September, by the time the laws are ready to be instigated, there could be a whole new parliament in charge, ready to put a halt to rolling out the new laws.
Facebook and Google agreed in principle to fight hate speech in Germany at the end of last year, and knew this was coming, but the reality is probably harsher than anyone expected. µ
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