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German Justice Minister says his country must do more to fight fake news

Facebook has already announced its plan to combat fake news, but apparently, that’s not enough for Germany. In an interview published Sunday morning, Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas insisted that his country’s judges and state prosecutors ought to lay down the law on fake news spread via social media networks (like Facebook), and that it needed to happen immediately.

Maas has long pointed out that anti-defamation laws in Germany are more strict than those in the U.S., and as such, American tech companies must respect the laws of the land when operating in the European country. In an interview with the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, Maas noted that free speech does not justify slander.

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“Defamation and malicious gossip are not covered under freedom of speech,” Maas said, echoing calls from some of his German colleagues to tamp down on “hate speech” circulating throughout Facebook, Twitter, and other such platforms. This was just days after other top government officials called for legislation to tackle hate speech and fake news on social media platforms.

 “Justice authorities must prosecute that, even on the internet,” Maas added, “Anyone who tries to manipulate the political discussion with lies needs to be aware (of the consequences).” In Germany, those consequences could include up to five years in jail.

While Germany’s libel and slander laws are indeed far-reaching, few of the 218,000 cases filed in 2015 dealt with internet instances. But Maas says that ought to change. “We need to fully utilize all the legal authority at our disposal,” he said.

“Facebook is earning an awful lot of money with fake news,” Maas concluded. “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.”