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German courts should go after fake news on Facebook now: minister

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German judges and state prosecutors need to crack down straight away on fake news disseminated through social media platforms such as Facebook, Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas said in an interview published on Sunday.

Maas, a Social Democrat in conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition, has repeatedly warned the U.S. technology company to respect laws against defamation in Germany that are more rigid than in the United States. He told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper the principle of free speech did not protect against slander.

“Defamation and malicious gossip are not covered under freedom of speech,” Maas said, just days after other top government officials called for legislation to tackle “hate speech” and fake news on Facebook and other social media platforms.

“Justice authorities must prosecute that, even on the internet,” he said, noting that offenders could face up to five years in jail. “Anyone who tries to manipulate the political discussion with lies needs to be aware (of the consequences).”

The issue of fake news has taken on new urgency after warnings by German and U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia has sought to influence elections and sway public opinion.

German government officials have expressed concern that fake news could influence the parliamentary election expected in September, in which Merkel will run for a fourth term.

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Germany’s strict libel and slander laws are meant to protect citizens by making it a crime to defame others. More than 218,000 cases involving insults were filed with prosecutors in 2015. But few internet cases were prosecuted.

Maas said he wants to change that: “We need to fully utilize all the legal authority at our disposal,” he said.

Fears of fake news ahead of the election have increased after the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, Hans-Georg Maassen, reported a rise in Russian propaganda and disinformation campaigns aimed at destabilizing German society.

“Facebook is earning an awful lot of money with fake news,” Maas told Bild am Sonntag. “A company that earns billions from the internet also has a social responsibility. Prosecutable defamation must be deleted immediately, once reported. It needs to be made easier for users to report fake news.”

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On Friday, the parliamentary floor leader for Merkel’s conservatives, Volker Kauder, said the government wanted to introduce a law in early 2017 that would require social media firms to set up local offices to respond faster to complaints.

Facebook Inc FB.O said on Thursday it would take measures to prevent fake news spreading.

(Reporting by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Andrew Bolton)

Report typos and corrections to [email protected].
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‘Disillusioned’ Trump megadonors have completely bailed on his 2020 campaign: report

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The billionaire Mercer family was one of President Donald Trump's biggest financial benefactors in 2016 -- but they appear to have completely withdrawn from political spending for the president's reelection bid.

Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman reports that hedge-fund tycoon Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah Mercer are "disillusioned" and have all but disappeared from the political scene as the president is gearing up his 2020 campaign.

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What we don’t know about Mexico’s efforts to stop migrants

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OK, it’s been only little more than 10 days since Donald Trump told us that Mexico had agreed to move aggressively to stop immigrants from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras that aim to pass through Mexico for the U.S. border.

How is the plan going?

More importantly, how will the Trump administration and White House measure the change and adjudge it as adequate progress in 45 days. Without such a declaration, the president had warned, he might renew the threat of progressively increased tariffs on Mexican imports.

It’s a little hard to tell—in part because it is too soon, and in part because no one is really compiling the information on a weekly basis to show progress or lack of it. In addition, there are questions of what exactly to measure or what that measure should be. Unlike the announced solutions, the problems themselves are complicated. And the new Mexican National Guard is still being formed.

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‘Expect the worst’ as Trump doubles down on racist rhetoric to rile up his base: columnist

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In a column for the Daily Beast, commentator and Sirius radio host Dean Obeidallah claims that all signs point to Donald Trump doubling down on racist rhetoric in an effort to rally his base as his internal polling shows him losing the key states that propelled him to the White House.

As Trump officially launches his re-election bid in Orlando on Tuesday night, Obeidallah notes Trump is falling back on what helped him appeal to disgruntled white workers in the Midwest and that he will likely ramp up attacks on undocumented immigrants -- including official actions.

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