23rd Mar 2018


The fake hype on fake news in Germany

  • Berlin: The real news is the political disenfranchisement of lower income Germans (Photo: Nicolas Nova)

The Association for the German language (GfdS) has a little tradition.

Every year around Christmas, it chooses a German “word of the year”. Last year’s winner was “postfaktisch”, the equivalent of the English expression “post-truth”.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The GfdS said postfaktisch describes profound changes in political and social discourse.

Apparently, we’ve entered an era in which emotions instead of facts shape our views on the big issues.

That’s interesting. Somehow, I can’t remember living in the truth era. And I ought to, as it must have been a great time.

The truth era never existed. Political and social debate has always been shaped by emotions and convictions as well as facts.

The GfdS also said that anti-establishment movements were willing to ignore facts and to accept obvious lies, so that “perceived reality” became more relevant than real reality.

It’s a bit arrogant to define truth in such a dogmatic fashion.

It’s also a simplistic generalisation to diagnose a general case of cognitive dissonance among all voters who don’t feel represented by established parties.

Still, the GfdS assessment has been reflected in the political debate in Germany.

Ever since Donald Trump’s mendacious but successful campaign in the US, European leaders fear that deception could influence elections in places such as The Netherlands, France, and Germany.

German chancellor Angela Merkel personally warned that fake news could “threaten the elections”.

The grand coalition of Merkel’s centre-right CDU/CSU party and the centre-left SPD party is working on legislation to tackle the issue.

The laws would make it possible to impose harsh fines on social media firms if they failed to delete fake news within 24 hours after it was posted.

It is true that fake news, backed by propaganda trolls and bots, have poisoned the public debate by cultivating racism and other forms of hatred.

But the response to these phenomena has been miscalculated and smacks of hypocrisy.

Old problem

Denigration of immigrants, women, LGBTI people, and other minorities has been a problem on social media for years.

The German government let Facebook lobbyists, time and again, persuade it to do nothing. As a result, the social media giant now has a stronger filter for nudity than it does for criminal incitement to violence.

Fake news, native advertising, click-bait schemes, and other scams never bothered legislators.

The old elite felt that it had an interpretive authority on truth, but now, with fake news said to make or break campaigns, it is taking steps to protect its position.

The laws that are now being discussed could, if implemented beyond criminal hate speech, make matters worse.

What is the definition of fake news, as opposed to opinions, interpretations, or satire, anyway?

Who should have the final say on deleting it? Where does the fight against fake news stop and where does political censorship begin?

It is not the business of the state or of commercial firms such as Facebook to define reality.

One false move, and anti-fake news laws could fuel the popular distrust of the establishment.

Breeding ground

Right-wing populism breeds in a society which has lost confidence in its political institutions and internet regulation is not the right prophylactic.

The success of fake news is a symptom of this underlying problem.

One way for the CDU/CSU and SDP to regain trust and to counter disinformation would be to increase transparency and probity in German politics.

Merkel’s government recently showed how to lose trust, however.

In December, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, a newspaper, reported that the German government had redacted sensitive passages from an economic report.

The original version of its “poverty and wealth” survey said poor Germans were, in practice, less important politically than richer ones.

“Policy change is much more likely if the change is supported by a large number of people with high income”, it said.

It added that “there is an obvious imbalance in political decisions to the disadvantage of poor people” and that “people with lower income tend to abstain from political participation, as they had the experience that political action is less dedicated to them”.

It also said corporate lobbyist and other special interest groups had significant influence.

Bad news

All this was taken out of the published version.

This is was real news and it was bad news.

It was bad that the German government censored its own research in a way that reminds one of postfaktisch practices.

What was worse though, was that the government didn’t see that the redacted content gave the real explanation for the rise of the far-right - the political disenfranchisement of lower income Germans.

Florian Lang, a freelance writer in Brussels, previously studied European far-right movements at the University of Vienna

'Denial' - is meat the new climate change?

The European Parliament's agriculture committee meets on Tuesday, with speculation that the EPP will vote against a report on the EU plant protein plan if it mentions switching away from animals to plant-based diets.

Moria refugee camp is no place for people

Two years on from the highly-controversial EU-Turkey deal, many thousands of refugees are still trapped on Greek islands. One of them offers an open invitation to EU leaders to see their inhospitable conditions at the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos.

Column / Brussels Bytes

EU e-privacy proposal risks breaking 'Internet of Things'

EU policymakers need to clarify that the e-privacy should not apply to most Internet of Things devices. The current proposal require explicit user consent in all cases - which is not practical.

News in Brief

  1. EU will be exempted from tariffs, says US minister
  2. Malmstroem: EU 'hopes' for US tariffs exemption
  3. Parliament must publish 'trilogue' documents, court says
  4. Italy's centre-right set to share top posts with 5-star movement
  5. Brussels condemns tear gas in Kosovo parliament
  6. Finland pays billionaire €400,000 in EU farm subsidies
  7. 44 leaders sign up for Africa free trade area deal
  8. British 'blue' passports to be made in EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EUobserverStart a Career in EU Media. Apply Now to Become Our Next Sales Associate
  2. EUobserverHiring - Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience - Apply Now!
  3. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  4. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  5. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  7. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  8. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  10. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  11. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  12. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?

Latest News

  1. EU summit takes hard look at Russia
  2. Germany casts doubt on Austrian intelligence sharing
  3. EU leaders set for 'stormy debate' on digital tax at summit
  4. EU praises Turkey on migrant deal despite Greek misery
  5. Judicial reforms 'restore balance', Poland tells EU
  6. Whistleblower fears for life as US arrests Malta bank chair
  7. Behind the scenes at Monday's EU talks on Russia
  8. US yet to push on Nord Stream 2 sanctions

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  2. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  3. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  4. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  5. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  6. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  7. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  8. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  9. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementCondemns Facebook for Actively Promoting Anti-Macedonian Racism
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal Seed Vault: Gene Banks Gather to Celebrate 1 Million Seed Collections