Fact Check

Was Twitter Fined $30B for Violating Hate Speech Laws in Germany?

Germany's Federal Office of Justice has reportedly started proceedings to investigate hate speech complaints regarding Twitter.

Published April 12, 2023

 (via @ThePopTingz/Twitter)
Image courtesy of via @ThePopTingz/Twitter
Claim:
In mid-April, 2023, Twitter, under Elon Musk's leadership, was fined $30 billion for allegedly violating hate speech laws in Germany.
Context

On April 4, 2023, Germany's Federal Office of Justice announced proceedings to determine whether it should take Twitter to court for allegedly violating hate speech laws. TechCrunch estimated that, if the matter were to go to court and the court ruled against the social media platform, the penalties could cost Twitter €30 billion. However, as of April 12, the social media company had not been fined that amount by the German government.

In mid-April 2023, viral social media posts claimed that Twitter, under Elon Musk's leadership, was facing a $30 billion fine in Germany. "Elon Musk's Twitter has been fined with $30 billion in Germany (which is more than Twitter is currently worth) over Twitter's repeated 'systemic failures' to comply with Germany's 'hate speech' laws," tweeted @ThePopTingz.

(via @ThePopTingz/Twitter)

This claim appeared to be based on, but was not an accurate description of, an actual new development.

Germany's Federal Office of Justice (BfJ) announced on April 4, 2023, that it initiated fine proceedings under the Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG) against the Twitter International Unlimited Company. A TechCrunch story reported on the announcement the same day.

The BfJ said it was looking into numerous reports of content published on Twitter that the authority considered "illegal and, despite user complaints, was not deleted or blocked by the provider (of Twitter) within the legally stipulated periods. The fine proceedings initiated are based on this."

However, it was false that, as of mid-April 2023, the social media company was facing a multibillion dollar fine from the government.

According to the BfJ, the office "has now given the provider of Twitter the opportunity to comment on the allegation of a systemic failure of the complaint management." It added if the BfJ came "to the conclusion that the accusation of illegal behavior is still justified, the BfJ will apply to the Bonn district court to initiate preliminary ruling proceedings and at the same time present the provider's statement."

The judicial determination of the illegality of the content "should be brought about before a fine is issued," the Federal Office of Justice said. "If the district court in Bonn finds that the content is illegal, the BfJ can impose a fine on the provider of Twitter."

(The statement, released in German, was translated into English with the help of Google Translate.)

TechCrunch estimated the fines could be in the billions of dollars. 

According to TechCrunch, "even just in Germany if the BfJ were to act on the 600+ illegal hate speech cases that have already been reported to it that could sum to fines of up to €30 billion for Twitter, based on the maximum penalties set out in the NetzDG law."

We reached out to Twitter for comment and will update this fact check if we receive a reply.

This was not the first time Twitter faced warnings or penalties in Europe. In November 2022, a month after Elon Musk bought the social media company for $44 billion, the European Union (EU) warned Musk that Twitter could be banned due to its content moderation

Additionally, EU officials said Twitter would need to comply with its Digital Services Act when it takes effect in 2024. That policy package is a set of rules that "aims to make platforms and search engines more accountable for illegal and harmful content including hate speech, scams and disinformation."

Even before Musk's take over of the company, the Data Protection Commission, an Irish supervisory authority on data protection, fined Twitter €450,000 in 2020 for breaking EU data law. (That's approximately $495,000 in today's dollars.)

Given that German authorities had not fined twitter $30 billion – rather, one media publication, TechCrunch, estimated the social media company could face that amount in fines should the German government take the social media to court – we rate this claim "False."

Sources

BfJ - Bundesamt Für Justiz Führt Bußgeldverfahren Gegen Die Twitter International Unlimited Company Wegen Unzureichenden Umgangs Mit Nutzerbeschwerden. https://www.bundesjustizamt.de/DE/ServiceGSB/Presse/Pressemitteilungen/2023/20230404.html. Accessed 12 Apr. 2023.

"EU's New Rules Could Clash with Musk's Tweaks to Twitter." PBS NewsHour, 15 Dec. 2022, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/world/eus-new-rules-could-clash-with-musks-tweaks-to-twitter.

Lomas, Natasha. "Germany Accuses Twitter of Failing to Remove Illegal Hate Speech." TechCrunch, 4 Apr. 2023, https://techcrunch.com/2023/04/04/twitter-netzdg-germany/.

---. "Twitter Could Be Facing Slew of Fines in Germany over Illegal Hate Speech." TechCrunch, 6 Apr. 2023, https://techcrunch.com/2023/04/06/elon-musk-twitter-germany-hate-speech-takedowns/.

Reuters. "Germany Starts Fine Proceedings against Twitter over User Complaints." Reuters, 4 Apr. 2023. www.reuters.com, https://www.reuters.com/technology/germany-starts-fine-proceedings-against-twitter-over-user-complaints-2023-04-04/.

Subscribe to Read | Financial Times. 30 Nov. 2022, https://web.archive.org/web/20221130180115/https://www.ft.com/content/a07ca1ae-9f9a-46ee-9457-27bb30e18ed2.

"Twitter Fined £400,000 for Breaking EU Data Law." BBC News, 15 Dec. 2020. www.bbc.com, https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-55317207.

Damakant Jayshi is a former writer for Snopes.