Risk & Compliance

Germany Fines Facebook for Understating Complaints

German officials say Facebook presented a "distorted picture" of the extent of illegal content, including hate speech, on its platform.
Matthew HellerJuly 2, 2019
Germany Fines Facebook for Understating Complaints

German authorities have fined Facebook 2 million euros ($2.3 million) for misleading the public about the amount of illegal content, including hate speech, on its platform.

The Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) said Tuesday that Facebook’s transparency report for the first half of 2018 understated the number of complaints it had received about illegal content.

Germany’s Network Enforcement Act, also known as NetzDG, requires social media platforms to publish such reports every six months.

In Facebook’s published report, “the number of complaints received about illegal content is incomplete,” the FOJ said in a news release. “This creates a distorted picture in the public about the extent of illegal content and the way the social network deals with them.”

Facebook disclosed 1,704 pieces of illegal content in the report while, by contrast, Google’s YouTube reported 144,836 items for the same time period. The Facebook report “lists only a fraction of complaints about illegal content,” the German ministry said.

A Facebook spokesperson said the company was “confident our published NetzDG reports are in accordance with the law,” adding that many critics have pointed out that the law “lacks clarity.”

But Reuters said the German complaint could undermine Facebook’s efforts to burnish its reputation after a series of scandals sparked questions over whether it should be broken up.

As CNN reports, CEO Mark Zuckerberg argued last month that a breakup “would make it harder to address social issues such as election integrity and the spread of harmful content.”

According to the FOJ, Facebook users who wanted to make a complaint about illegal content were directed to an option for flagging posts that violate the platform’s community standards because Facebook did not make it clear that its NetzDG form should be used for making such complaints.

Facebook’s community standards enforcement report suggests there was “a high number” of illegal content complaints, the ministry said.

It added that “If social networks have multiple reporting channels, they must be transparent and unambiguous to the users, and their inputs must always be reflected in the transparency report.”

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