German courts should tackle fake news now, says justice minister

  • “Facebook is earning an awful lot of money with fake news,” Maas told Bild am Sonntag.
  • Heiko Maas says people who spread hate speech and fake news on social media sites should be prosecuted
  • German judges and state prosecutors need to crack down on fake news disseminated through social media platforms immediately, Germany’s justice minister has said.
  • German courts should tackle fake news now, says justice minister
  • The issue of fake news has taken on a new urgency after warnings by German and US intelligence agencies that Russia had sought to influence elections and sway public opinion.

Heiko Maas says people who spread hate speech and fake news on social media sites should be prosecuted

@zooko: Politicians, bureaucrats, and authorities sure are hopping on the “fake news” bandwagon quickly. Look at them go.

German judges and state prosecutors need to crack down on fake news disseminated through social media platforms immediately, Germany’s justice minister has said.

Heiko Maas, a Social Democrat in the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) coalition of the chancellor, Angela Merkel, has repeatedly warned US technology companies such as Facebook to respect laws against defamation in Germany that are more rigid than in the US.

He told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that the principle of free speech did not protect against slander. “Defamation and malicious gossip are not covered under freedom of speech,” Maas said, just days after other top government officials called for legislation to tackle hate speech and fake news on Facebook and other social media platforms.

“Justice authorities must prosecute that, even on the internet,” he said, noting that offenders could face up to five years in jail. “Anyone who tries to manipulate the political discussion with lies needs to be aware [of the consequences].”

The issue of fake news has taken on a new urgency after warnings by German and US intelligence agencies that Russia had sought to influence elections and sway public opinion. German politicians have expressed concern that fake news could influence the parliamentary election expected in September, in which Merkel will run for a fourth term.

Germany’s strict libel and slander laws are meant to protect citizens by making it a crime to defame others. More than 218,000 cases involving insults were filed with prosecutors in 2015. But few internet cases were prosecuted.

Maas wants to change that. “We need to fully utilise all the legal authority at our disposal,” he said.

Fears of the spread of fake news in the run-up to the election have increased after Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, reported a rise in Russian propaganda and disinformation campaigns aimed at destabilising German society.

“Facebook is earning an awful lot of money with fake news,” Maas told Bild am Sonntag. “A company that earns billions from the internet also has a social responsibility. Prosecutable defamation must be deleted immediately, once reported. It needs to be made easier for users to report fake news.”

On Friday, the leader of the CDU in parliament, Volker Kauder, said the government wanted to introduce a law in early 2017 that would require social media firms to set up local offices to respond faster to complaints.

Facebook has said it would take measures to prevent the spread of fake news.

German courts should tackle fake news now, says justice minister