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Germany is serious about policing social media for illegal content, judging by a new proposal from the country's Justice Ministry threatening huge fines for social media companies that fail to comply with orders to remove prohibited material in a variety of categories.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas.

"The biggest problem is that the networks do not take the complaints of their own users seriously enough", he said, adding that it will increase pressure on the companies to get results.

Though social media sites are getting better at responding to complaints of defamatory posts, there's a lot of work still to do, Maas said.

"We need legal regulations to make companies even more obligated to delete criminal content".

While "fake news" in itself is not illegal, supporters of restrictions say it often incorporates defamation and incitement that would be punished if carried by traditional media.

Fresh tests of the platforms' abilities to take down content that was reported as illegal, found too few posts were taken down and that the ones that were, were not taken down quickly enough, said justice minister Heiko Maas.

According to Bloomberg, social networks will be required to delete or block "obviously illegal" material within 24 hours after it has been flagged, with a seven-day window for other illegal content. Germany has set a target of 70% of content being deleted within one day. That person could face an individually levied fine of five million euros if companies break laws governing what can be published.

As Germany's election campaign gathers pace ahead of the September 24 vote, Chancellor Angela Merkel's government is increasing pressure on social networks to curb the spread of fake news and malicious posts.

Last week a Syrian refugee lost a lawsuit against Facebook that sought the removal of posts that falsely identified him as a terrorist.

The lies were repeated on Twitter and on websites posing as "anti-mainstream media" news outlets, where the articles remain.

Facebook has already built in new tools allowing German users to combat the spread of fabricated news stories, which allow posts to be flagged and passed to third party fact-checkers.

A spokesperson for Twitter declined to comment, but referenced recent changes the company had made to crack down on abusive accounts and make it easier for users to control the type of content that they see.