Social networking giants such as Facebook and Twitter could face fines of up to 50 million euros (53.15 million dollars) for failing to remove illegal posts aimed at incitement and slander, or disseminating fake news, under a possible new German crackdown.
"We need to increase the pressure on the social networks so that companies take even more seriously their responsibility to eradicate criminal content," said Justice Minister Heiko Maas as he set out details of the draconian new draft law on Tuesday.
The proposed rules give companies a strict 24-hour deadline to remove material from their platforms that is deemed to be slanderous and hateful, or face hefty fines.
The proposal got a cool reception from groups with strong interests in internet freedom.
"We pursue a very sensitive relationship between freedom of opinion and criminally relevant statements," said Oliver Sueme of eco, an internet association.
Eco also called for a more consistent approach by law enforcement agencies to taking action against illegal content on the internet instead of imposing what it said were unrealistic conditions for companies.
German digital association Bitkom also claimed that there were major gaps in Maas' draft law, saying it would shift responsibility for policing web content from the government to private companies.
"We are surprised that the question of why the authorities have so far refrained from consistently enforcing valid laws remains unanswered," said Bitkom chief executive Bernhard Rohleder.
The draft does not go to the "root of the evil" such as those who create illegal content and publish it on social networks, Rohleder said.
Coincidentally, a court in Germany this month ruled against a Syrian refugee who filed a lawsuit against Facebook after a photo of him with Chancellor Angela Merkel was used as part of false news posts linking him to terrorism.
But, said Maas: "When it comes to punishable offences involving incitement and slander there can be just as little space on social networks as on the streets."
Failure to remove material aimed at incitement or that is found to be slanderous will result in fines of up to 5 million euros for individuals in a company responsible and to up 50 million for the organizations themselves, Maas said.
The new rules come as Germany gears for a series of elections amid concerns about the use of social media to promulgate so-called fake news as well as racist and hate commentaries.
The draft rules, which still have to be approved by the German cabinet, also call for a quarterly report to published on the handling of complaints.