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Facebook's fake news furor reignited after Berlin terror attack

Facebook on smartphone
Jaap Arriens | NurPhoto | Getty Images

Facebook's Safety Check feature has come under intense scrutiny for reportedly describing events in Berlin as an "attack" before police authorities and news agencies were able to confirm the nature of the incident, reigniting the so-called fake news controversy surrounding the social media giant.

On Monday evening, 12 people died and 49 were injured after a truck ploughed into a Christmas market in central Berlin. Police are still searching for the killer as well as any further accomplices and are currently treating the incident which took place at Breitscheidplatz market as a "terror attack".

Facebook's Safety Check page, which was activated immediately after the attack, allows millions of Facebook users to create updates in order to let family and friends know they are safe in the aftermath of a disaster. However, reportedly Facebook modified its page at around 5 p.m ET on Monday to edit the unconfirmed "attack" to a "violent incident".

Facebook was not immediately available to comment when contacted by CNBC on Wednesday.

Severe penalties

The social media giant had previously come under pressure after an upsurge of apparent news articles throughout the U.S. presidential election campaign were found to contain misinformation.

In response, the German government is reportedly planning a law which would impose fines of up to 500,000 euros ($520,000 dollars) to Facebook for any fake news articles distributed on the site which could impact next year's election.

Concerns have increased that internet hoaxes could significantly impact the upcoming German election which is due to be held between August 27 and November 27.

"If after the relevant checks Facebook does not immediately, within 24 hours, delete the offending post then (it) must reckon with severe penalties of up to 500,000 euros," Thomas Oppermann, Germany's parliamentary chief of the Social Democrat party told Der Spiegel magazine in an interview that was published on Friday.

"Now market dominating platforms like Facebook will be legally required to build a legal protection office in Germany that is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," he added.

The law proposal is under consideration by the Social Democrat party as well its current coalition partner, Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats.

Merkel pleaded for unity immediately after the attack and told reporters she would not allow Germany to be "paralyzed by fear" by such incidents.

Political opponents and electoral rivals Alternative for Germany rejected the chancellor's call for togetherness and renewed criticism of her open-door refugee policy.

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