Social media companies are on the hook for fines as high as $57 million

Germany has some of the most aggressive laws on the books when it comes to hate speech, and this week the country's government extended those laws even further, imposing strict guidelines for social media companies on how to handle hate speech online.

Under a new law passed Friday, social media companies operating within the county will soon have to remove illegal, racist or slanderous comments and posts within 24 hours of them first being flagged. Failure to do so will result in heavy fines, starting at €5 million ($5.7 million) and climbing as high as €50 million. The law also requires companies publish a report every six months of the number of complaints they received and how they were handled.

Digital and human rights groups, as well as companies including Facebook and Google, opposed the bill on grounds that it limited user's rights to free expression. But Heiko Maas, the justice minister who drew up the draft legislation, said the bill was needed at a time when Germany is dealing with an increase of racist and anti-immigrant postings online after the arrival of more than a million, predominantly Muslim immigrants since 2015.

“With this law, we put an end to the verbal law of the jungle on the internet and protect the freedom of expression for all,” said Maas in a statement translated by The New York Times. “We are ensuring that everyone can express their opinion freely, without being insulted or threatened. That is not a limitation, but a prerequisite for freedom of expression.”

The law will take effect starting in October, at which time companies including Twitter, Facebook, Google and Youtube will need to begin deleting hateful comments within 24 hours. Facebook said in a statement Friday that it shares the German government's goals. The company announced in May it will nearly double, to 7,500, the number of employees worldwide devoted to dealing with flagged postings.

Germany has some of the most aggressive laws on the books when it comes to hate speech, and this week the country's government extended those laws even further, imposing strict guidelines for social media companies on how to handle hate speech online.

Under a new law passed Friday, social media companies operating within the county will soon have to remove illegal, racist or slanderous comments and posts within 24 hours of them first being flagged. Failure to do so will result in heavy fines, starting at €5 million ($5.7 million) and climbing as high as €50 million. The law also requires companies publish a report every six months of the number of complaints they received and how they were handled.