Germany Mulls Heavy Fines for Facebook Over ‘Fake News’ Posts

Considers penalties of $522,000 per post

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg / AP

The German government is considering making Facebook pay hefty fines for "fake news" posts due to worries they could impact the country's elections.

The possible fines come from lawmakers in the country who are worried Russia may try to interfere with elections in 2017. Politicians are mulling legislation that would compel the social media giant to create a "legal protection unit" and pay individuals affected by "fake news" stories that are not swiftly dealt with, Forbes reported.

"If after the relevant checks Facebook does not immediately, within 24 hours, delete the offending post then [it] must reckon with severe penalties of up to 500,000 euros ($522,000 in U.S. dollars)," said Thomas Oppermann, the chairman of Germany's Social Democratic Party.

The Social Democratic Party and Christian Democratic Union, the party led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, both support the "fake news" crackdown.

Merkel warned in November that the country would deal with such stories.

"Something has changed—as globalization has marched on, [political] debate is taking place in a completely new media environment," Merkel said. "Opinions aren't formed the way they were 25 years ago. Today we have fake sites, bots, trolls—things that regenerate themselves, reinforcing opinions with certain algorithms and we have to learn to deal with them."

Patrick Sensburg, a member of Merkel's party, added, "targeting disinformation to destabilize a state should be a criminal offence."

Facebook says it is in communication with politicians in the country over their concerns.

"We take the issues raised very seriously. And we are engaging with key politicians and digital experts from all parties and relevant ministries in Germany interested in this matter," a Facebook spokesperson told the Washington Free Beacon in an email statement.

This is not the first time this month that Germany has singled out Facebook and threatened penalties.

Volker Kauder, an ally of Merkel's, said at a Christian Democrats conference in early December that large companies could face fines for online hate speech.

"I expect from big companies like Facebook that they adhere to laws. If they are not respected than we must think about new possibilities, fines for example," Kauder said.

Facebook has said it is difficult to track such speech given the number of users on the social media platform. Kauder disputed this notion.

"They say there is too much. But a big auto manufacturer that produces millions of cars can't say: ‘I produce so many cars that I can't guarantee they are all secure.' No, that is not on," Kauder said. "I expect and demand from Facebook that laws are upheld."

Other German politicians have warned they may introduce legislation if social media outlets fail to remove 70 percent of hate speech by March 2017, Yahoo News reported.

Merkel will stand for reelection next year. German far-right politicians have gained traction by hitting the chancellor for her "open-door" immigration policy.

Marcus Pretzell, a member of the Alternative for Germany party, took to social media to blame Merkel's policies for the loss of life following Berlin's Christmas market truck attack. That attack killed 12 and injured nearly 50.

"These are Merkel's dead," Pretzell posted on Twitter.

German police, believing they arrested the wrong man, released a Pakistani migrant on Tuesday who was the initial suspect for the attacks. Authorities launched a new manhunt following his release.