BERLIN — A Facebook executive who spoke in Berlin the day after Germany announced plans to fine social networks up to €50 million (£44 million) for failing to remove slanderous or threatening online postings admitted that Facebook doesn’t yet have all the answers when it comes to removing fake and illegal content from its platform.
Stephen Deadman, Facebook’s global deputy chief privacy officer, said that the social media giant’s scale makes it hard to monitor and filter everything that gets published and that it had hundreds of staff working on the issue.
“When it comes to managing content, we have almost 1.9 billion people on the platform,” Deadman said at the G20 Consumer Summit on Wednesday. “It’s a pretty unique situation to be in. Managing content is one of our biggest priorities. I don’t want to give any impression that it’s something that doesn’t matter to us: it’s absolutely a top priority.”
Deadman added: “The issues we’re discussing today and the issues that were raised here in Germany this week are what we call ‘hard problems’. They’re ‘hard problems’ because often they involve dilemmas. Take for example, the issue around illegal content. We want everybody to be safe. We also want open and free internet with a variety of content. We also don’t want companies to become the sensors of the internet, or governments for that matter.”
Finding a solution that ticks all the boxes “isn’t simple,” according to Deadman, who said that Facebook will spend a “huge amount of time and effort” to ensure that it gets it right.
One such effort took place in Berlin last weekend, according to Deadman, who went on to explain that Facebook essentially held a hackathon-style event with 70 people to in a bid to come up with new ways to tackle some of Facebook’s biggest issues.
“We were focusing on how do we build trust, transparency and control for people around their data,” said Deadman, who claimed that the event was attended by designers, brands, academics, privacy advocates, and policy people.
Deadman didn’t say whether Facebook would appeal against any potential fines, which were described by Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas in a statement on Tuesday.
“This (draft law) sets out binding standards for the way operators of social networks deal with complaints and obliges them to delete criminal content,” said Maas.
Maas said failing to comply could result in a fine of up to €5 million (£4 million) on the individual deemed responsible for the company in Germany and €50 million (£44 million) against the companies themselves.
In 2015, Germany pushed Facebook, Twitter and Google’s YouTube to sign up to a code of conduct, which included a pledge to delete hate speech from their websites within 24 hours. The new draft rules turns the code of conduct commitment into legal obligations. Under the new law, social media sites will have to:
- delete or remove illegal content
- report regularly on the volume of filed complaints
- make it easier for users to complain about offensive content.
Germany is keen to avoid fake news being circulated on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter in the lead up to its general elections, fearing that it could influence the way that people before they vote in the same way that it may have in the US.
Facebook has taken some early steps to satisfy Germany’s regulators. In January, the company announced that it would start filtering fake news for users in Germany. It was the first overseas expansion of an initiative, which launched in the US in December. The company is doing this by working with a number of fact-checking partners, including non-profit Correctiv.
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