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Hate speech regulations for social media could be relaxed after complaints

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Regulations which require social media companies to remove hate speech from their platforms within a short period of time could be relaxed, following criticism that inoffensive content is being removed to avoid the risk of fines.

While social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter have come heavily under fire in the past year for their alleged passivity in the face of hate speech, violent content and misinformation being spread on their platforms, Germany is the first European country to introduce tough regulations requiring these companies to remove hateful content.

Other world leaders – including Prime Minister Theresa May – have sought voluntary agreements with these companies to take action on hate speech and harassment.

Representatives of social media companies have acknowledged the need to prevent their platforms becoming soapboxes for hate; for instance, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made his aim of 2018 to “fix Facebook”.

The German law regulating social media content came into force at the beginning of the year. It requires web companies to remove hate speech, including Neo-Nazi propaganda, within 24 hours or otherwise face hefty fines of up to €50m (£44.5m).

According to Chancellor Angela Merkel, the internet is not “a space that is free from the law”.

Some believe that the law, which is known as NetzDZ, has been too strictly enforced. These critics argue that the threat of enormous fines is already encouraging social media companies to act cautiously and remove any questionable content that has been reported, including satirical content.

According to a Reuters report, German legislators are now considering adding an amendment to NetzDZ which could help users restore their content if it is incorrectly removed.

“We will add provision so that users have a legal possibility to have unjustly deleted content restored,” Johannes Ferchner, a Social Democrat spokesperson on justice and consumer protection, told Reuters.

The politicians – from both Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party and their new coalition partner the Social Democrats – are also pushing for social media companies to set up an independent body to manage reports of hate speech on all social media platforms, rather than each company having its own set of employees dedicated to policing their platform. This could allow for more uniformity in how the content is policed across the social media landscape.

At present, offensive content tends not to be referred to an independent authority and is usually reported to the company itself for a moderator to review. Facebook has stated that it employs 14,000 such people around the world to moderate user-generated content.

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