Germany moves to crack down on fake news

Berlin: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union party are drafting a concrete plan to combat fake news in the country and the potential effect it could have for the upcoming general elections in September.

Simon Hegelich, professor of political science at the Technical University of Munich and who was asked by Merkel to brief the CDU executive committee on the fake news movement, told Xinhua news agency that fake news became high priority for German politicians after the US elections.

Hegelich believes if fake news is distributed in high frequency, say, by social bots, trolls or algorithms, it could change public perception of a topic for a short amount of time, and that high-frequency fake news before the election or at times of strategical importance could be dangerous.

“Overtime, fake news contributes to an atmosphere of uncertainty and angst, which could help populist parties,” said Hegelich.

Subsequently, Merkel and her party plan to deal with social bots and Internet trolls, which they deem as “the biggest threat to disseminating high frequency fake news”.

To help combat open misinformation channels on social media sites, Merkel and her CDU party plan to give Facebook and other social platforms users more flexibility in registering complaints about fake news and any offensive content.

Any victims of fake news would also have the right to know who wrote the source material. To ensure the action plan is followed, any news portals who do not comply with the proposed terms will be fined — the current suggested amount is 500,000 euros.

Companies such as Facebook and Google have already started to clamp down on fake news. However, Facebook continues to be heavily criticised in Berlin, for failing to deal with racist hate speech on its news feeds.

In response, the social media giant is implementing new filtering tools tailored specifically for Germany, which include using a third-party fact checker.

Nadine Schoen, a senior CDU MP and one of the politicians directly involved in the CDU fake news action plan, does not think that companies like Facebook go far enough.

“The platform operators have simply not established the necessary mechanisms that allow for fake news stories to be investigated promptly and to help those affected find legal redress,”she said.

A fake news white paper published by news aktuell earlier this week showed that 68 per cent of Germans have come across fake news from traditional media or social media in the last 12 months, and 63 per cent of Germans use the Internet as a main source for the news.

The paper also raises concerns about the speed at which news can be shared on social media through likes and shares, without any barriers or application of traditional journalism standards.

It warns that any solution to curbing fake news must be rigorously tested to be able to effectively control the pandemic.