Wait! What? Fine the companies? Are they serious? Apparently yes.
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If the new law should pass, Germany would level a 500, 000 Euro ($520, 000) fine for each and every fake news story to appear on Facebook. Now the world’s biggest social media platform may bring in billions a year, but at that rate 1, 000 different fake news stories would cost it more than half a billion dollars.
Americans are reeling over this whole fake news mess. People are saying that it had an effect on the outcome of the 2016 Presidential elections and Germans do not what to see the same thing happen there as they go to the polls in new national elections next year. And their government feels that Facebook has not taken appropriate steps as of yet to stop the spread of fake news.
Deutsche Welle has quoted Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) parliamentary chairman Thomas Oppermann as saying, “Facebook did not avail itself of the opportunity to regulate the issue of complaint management itself. 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.”
So Facebook would not be fined just for the fake news posts. It would be required by law to take immediate action in response to complaints and only be fined if it does not remove the links within 24 hours. And this would only apply to those people who are directly affected by the fake news posts. So unless the story is about you personally then you will not be able to file a complaint.
So this is really just about protecting people from libel and not just fake news stories. And In European countries like Germany the laws on libelous speech are much stricter than they are in America where the U.S. Constitution makes limiting free speech and the freedom of the press, even when it comes to libel and slander, very difficult.
But is Facebook really to blame for all of this and how do you hold it responsible for every post made? Will it only be required to correct its own news feeds or will it have to police the posts made by every single one of its more than 1 billion users.
And if someone just posts a link on their timeline to a fake news story how exactly is Facebook to blame for this? Another important question to be answered is does the German government have the right or authority to include Facebook posts made from outside of its borders under the new law. For example, what happens if someone in America or India posts something to Facebook and a friend of theirs sees it in Germany? Will this be covered under the law?
The frustration over the proliferation of fake news is certainly understandable and there is no excuse for libel. But maybe people should not be so quick to put the blame on social media companies like Facebook. Would you fine the phone company for people gossiping over the phone? Of course not.
People believe fake news stories because they want to. Maybe the German government should be concerned with the people who post these stories and not Facebook.