News has broken that social media companies in Germany face fines of up to 50m euros ($57.1; £43.9m) if they fail to remove “obviously illegal” content in time. Comment from Defamation litigator at Mishcon de Reya, Katy Colton.
It’s been reported that from October, Facebook, YouTube, and other sites with over two million users in Germany must take down posts that contain hate speech or other criminal material within 24 hours. This new law will mean a 5m euro penalty (with the potential to rise to 50m depending on the severity of the offence) for those who fail to comply. A somewhat surprising alternative – or additional – method of combating fake news is the old fashioned injunction. Mishcon de Reya recently obtained an unusual defamation injunction for a client who was the victim of a fake news campaign. Katy Colton, a litigator at Mishcon de Reya who led this case commented:
“The introduction of these fines is an encouraging sign that Germany is taking defamation seriously, though it must of course be balanced with freedom of speech. In today’s technological world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to protect individuals from potentially very damaging online abuse and fake news campaigns without taking extreme measures such as this. Our recent case marks an interesting stage in the history of the injunction; namely that, whilst the value of the traditional injunction was diminished significantly by the internet, in this instance it is the internet that has caused us to need to call upon it. And we believe that this will become increasingly necessary in our ‘post-truth’ society.
“In this case, we were able to prevent the spread of ‘fake news’ by securing an injunction against ‘persons unknown’. What was critical was securing the injunction as early as possible before the content went viral – making it a criminal offence for anybody to share it thereafter. The injunction has had an interesting journey alongside technological developments which have made its use almost obsolete. This latest example, however, bucks this trend. The rise of fake news defaming individuals, as well as crimes such as revenge porn, may well see the revival of the old fashioned injunction if used wisely. This could well be the next frontier of injunctions.”