The German government clearly has a keen sense of irony – voting in one of the world’s toughest social media laws on 30 June, the designated annual date of Social Media Day.

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From October, social media sites with more than two million users in Germany must take down posts containing unlawful hate or other criminal material within 24 hours, while borderline content must be assessed within seven days. Failure to remove material found to be unlawful within 24 hours will result in a fine of between 5 million and 50 million euros.

With hate crime on the increase around the world, Germany’s new law surely sets a benchmark for other countries – or does it? Human rights groups and industry representatives claim its deadlines are unrealistic and will lead to sites hastily removing posts, regardless of their legality, to avoid being fined.

It’s a fine line between curbing hate crime and limiting free speech – one group’s call for justice can be hateful to another group. As ever, finding the right balance will be down to those who sit in judgement.

Since the 1997 launch of the first recognisable social media site, we’ve laboured under the idealistic belief that social media can be self-governing. Bitter experience over the last 20 years shows this isn’t enough. Will Germany’s new law be the answer? Watch this space…

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