Twitter and Facebook Are Facing Fines in Germany Over Hate Speech and Fake News

Al Jazeera
Who is most directly to blame for hate speech? Well, the people saying it, obviously, but many would argue that it's the platforms on which such speech is spread that should take the most responsibility. Edmund Burke once said "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing". It would be somewhat extreme to class hate speech and fake news as evil, and Facebook and Twitter certainly aren't doing nothing, but they aren't doing anywhere near enough in the eyes of many.

The German government certainly seem to hold that stance. They're currently hammering out a law which could see both platforms being hit with fines of up to 50 million euros if they don't remove hateful or deceitful content within 24 hours. While there's certainly no guarantee that this bill will end up getting approved, the very fact that it's in the works sends a strong message.

Hate speech is illegal almost everywhere in the world, as is libel, but recognising it and policing it aren't easy on platforms which are being used by such vast numbers of people. Both Facebook and Twitter rely on algorithms to help them do this, and time and time again these algorithms have proven to be ineffectual.

The other side of the argument is that Facebook and Twitter are just information hubs, and they aren't directly responsible for examining the quality of everything which gets posted. The fundamental flaw with that argument is that both platforms are designed to allow content to reach as far as it possibly can. If you stand in the middle of a town square with a box of megaphones, and then somebody takes one and starts screeching racist slurs through it, you can't really stand there and pretend it isn't at least a little bit your fault.

This proposal will probably upset people. Neither Facebook nor Twitter will have much nice to say about it, even they even bother making public statements, and brace yourself for the term 'free speech' to start flying around like dung in a chimpanzee enclosure. This is what happens when the primary sources of media don't take direct responsibility for the content which they broadcast. Newspapers might have an abhorrent amount of bias in their history, but at least you actually had to be a journalist to write in one.

Of course, any standardised system of moderation simply won't work, there are just too many people, but since automated systems aren't working either, what's the solution? It's a tough one, but at the moment the best answer seems to be making the current system more sophisticated. Fake news is probably the easier of the two to deal with, mainly because there's less of it, but also because fabricated articles are easier to discredit than somebody going on a massive homophobic tirade in a comment section.

With developments in AI, significant progress and still be made, and who knows, with the looming threat of a fat bill every time hate speech goes unaddressed, that development could be fast tracked. Even if it is, though, more stringent moderation is probably just a stopgap on the way towards a real solution.

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