The German government has unveiled plans to fine social media sites €500,000 if they fail to remove fake news stories from the site with 24 hours.

Jamie Davies

December 20, 2016

3 Min Read
Germany says hosting fake news will cost social media €500,000

The German government has unveiled plans to fine social media sites €500,000 if they fail to remove fake news stories from the site with 24 hours.

The rise of fake news has been making waves throughout the world in recent months after it has been claimed the presence of such stories have swayed opinions on serious questions. The Brexit referendum and President-elect Trump’s victory in November are two examples where the presence of fake news stories is believed by some to have influenced the result. According to Ars Technica, the German government is attempting to stamp out the impact of fake news.

“Market dominating platforms like Facebook will be legally required to build a legal protection office in Germany that is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” Chair of the Social Democratic Party Thomas Oppermann. “If, after appropriate examination, Facebook does not delete the offending message within 24 hours, it should expect individual fines of up to 500,000 euros.”

The move does make sense in a manner of speaking, as platforms such as Facebook and Twitter do have an implied responsibility to ensure they are not the facilitators of content which could cause damage. The big challenge here is the fact they are the hosts of content not the creators. Traditional media titles can be held more accountable as they are responsible for the creation and tone, whereas on social media the power of creation is given to the masses.

Such platforms have democratized the internet, but for every positive voice in society there is likely to be a negative one. This is the beauty and horror of free-speech, but how to ensure this voice does not deceive individuals, decisions and popular opinion is a tricky task. Censorship should be out of the question, though this is not the case in several countries, but there has to be a responsibility to ensure what is being said is in fact true.

Facebook is one company which has stepped up to the plate in recent weeks, though this is hardly surprising as it has been the scape-goat for a number of commentators who believe fake news has incorrectly influenced popular opinion. Facebook’s approach has been from a crowdsourcing angle, making it easier for users to flag articles which they believe are fake. How effective this approach will be remains to be seen as it hasn’t addressed one of the big problems; for it to be reported by users it has to be in the public domain already.

For every person who spots a fake news story, there will probably be one who believes it. Its reducing the impact of the problem, but it’s not removing it completely. In previous years, a moderator could be used to judge the content, but with the sheer volume of content being launched on a daily basis, this is now simply impossible. Or is it…

Considering the progress which is being made in the world of artificial intelligence, this should be a relatively simple use-case. Automation of this task would simply be a case of the AI program understanding the content, and fact checking against what is currently on the internet. It’s as simple as a human reading the story and then doing a google search afterwards. Admittedly, it is very easy for your correspondent to say it’s simple, but considering the likes of Deepmind has taught a computer to play one of the most complex games on the planet, this should be like clapping their hands.

Automation and simple decision making is the promise of artificial intelligence. The immense computing power available can essentially create the equivalent of an army of human moderators. We understand Facebook is working on such an idea in its own AI labs, which would be a smart move as it is the platform most likely to be under the regulators spotlight with the fake news fines.

There have been many weird and wonderful use-cases for artificial intelligence put forward over the course of 2016, though this seems to be one of the simpler and more logical.

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