#The United States had direct experience of #hate speech and "fake news" during the presidential campaign that ended with #Donald Trump ’s victory on November 8th. Since then these themes have dominated news cycles and are now spreading to the Old Continent with vital elections in France and in Germany.

Migrants

Europe has felt the tide of refugees and migrants coming from the hot spots in the Middle East and Africa. Almost every day the continent’s news bulletins show reports of boatloads of refugees capsizing in the Mediterranean and the groups of refugees and migrants seeking a new life in the European Union.

As in the United States these scenes have fed right wing parties which have taken populist stances in almost every country.

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The fears of the new arrivals have not only raised the profile of those politicians who use race as their calling card, such as Geert Wilders of Holland’s Freedom Party in today’s Dutch elections, but also of other groups which no longer hide their fascist leanings.

These fears have been stoked by the social media where many sites in every language spread false rumours of crimes by migrants and also about politicians.

Mainstays

This year the two mainstays of the European are holding their national elections. On April 23 and May 7 France will be going to the polls to elect its President to replace François Hollande who will not seek a second term. Germany will go to the polls on September 24 when Chancellor Angela Merkel will seek a fourth term against opponent Martin Schulz.

Both these elections will have long term consequences for the Union and are being followed closely not only in Europe but also around the world.

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The German poll in particular will become a test of government determination to rid the social media of hate speech and the #fake news that is often linked to it.

Social media

For this reason the German government has announced plans to enact legislation to heavily fine social media groups who do not quickly remove offensive and illegal material, including fake news.

The BBC reports that these companies, including Facebook and Twitter face fines of up to 50 million euros if the material is not removed quickly. According to this proposed law the sites will have 24 hours to remove offensive material.

Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas stated that Twitter currently only removes 1% of hate speech and Facebook 39%. Although they have taken part on government programmes to reduce the threat from hate speech their actions have been considered insufficient in the light of the amount of material available online.

While Facebook questions the figures given it has admitted that there is a problem and indicated that by the end of the year 700 people will be employed to monitor and remove the hate speech and fake news.

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If the law is passed as announced the sites will also be required to report the names of those who posted the false information.

Undoubtedly the German proposal will be watched with interest around the world as these issues have been an increasing part of political debate around the world. Election campaigns are already become sources of social tensions and any successful means of limiting the spread of defamatory and false information, particularly those based on religious and racial intolerance, can only be welcomed by responsible politicians around the world.