Facebook and Twitter’s efforts towards combating hate speech are just not cutting it. The social networking platforms were recently criticized in Germany for failing to curb the growth of hate speech happening through their platform. The German government has also brought in a draft bill that is aimed at doing what these companies failed to do, and curbing the steady growth of hate speech.
While presenting its draft bill, the German government argued that companies like Facebook and Twitter have been failing in their efforts to curb hate and criminality related offenses upon their platforms. Keeping that in mind, the government is making a push for tighter regulations. And they really are tighter this time around. The government is talking about a set of binding standards for dealing with complaints and removing criminal content when they are brought into the notice of these social networks. Failing to comply with these standards could lead to potential fines of up to €50 million.
Germany has been taking in a huge number of refugees. As with any country taking in asylum seekers, there is a section of the populace that opposes the notion of their country expanding their resources to help what they see as essentially alien. To prevent untoward accidents against the highly vulnerable refugee population, brought about by people being too vocal upon social media, Germany has been forcing social media networks to pay attention to content being floated on their platforms.
Speaking on the topic, Federal Justice and Consumer Protection Minister, Heiko Maas said:
There can be just as little space in the social networks as on the street for crimes and slander. The biggest problem is that the networks do not take the complaints of their own users seriously enough.
And of course, Germany also has elections this year. The company has an inherently hostile attitude to something like fake news or viral posts or hate speech on a social network affecting the outcome of its elections. The attitude has been further strengthened by the reports of fake news having a hand in getting president Trump elected as the US president.
Meanwhile, Facebook and Twitter have already given commitments to the German government regarding the removal of criminal hate speech from their respective platforms within 24 hours. This happened in December 2015. Later, in May last year, Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft also agreed to honor a code of conduct that saw them commit to removing hate speech within 24 hours.
However, a report from the German government says that Facebook’s performance has been going steadily downhill. As per the German Ministry of Justice, Facebook has become even worse at handling user complaints. The company deleted or blocked merely 39 per cent of the total criminal content reported by users — a 7 percent decline versus initial tests. What’s more, the company deleted only a third of the content reported by Facebook users within the stipulated, 24-hour time frame.
Twitter was even worse and as per the German government report, and managed to delete only one of a hundred user messages. Needless to say, and none of the deletions took place within 24 hours.
Unfortunately for Facebook and Twitter, Google has made rapid progress where they have failed to miserably. As much as 90 per cent of user reported criminal content was deleted from YouTube with 82 per cent of the deletions occuring within 24 hours after users first reporting it as criminal. This among other things, has convinced the German government that it is high time to bring in more stringent laws.
Google shows with the platform Youtube that it is better. Therefore, it is now clear that we must further increase the pressure on social networks. We need legal regulations to make companies even more obligated to eradicate criminal offenses.
Should the draft be passed as a law, social networks operating within Germany will be required to provide users with easily accessible channels of communication for reporting fake news. They will also be required to deal with user complaints within 24 hours — a week in case the content is not obviously criminal — and inform the user of the action taken upon his/her complaint.
Most of what is mentioned in the draft is what should have been standard practice by now. However, Germany is now backing what it wants with the threat of heavy fines in hopes that the prospect of having to pay fines up to €50 million will make social networks sit up and take notice.