Saturday

20th Aug 2022

Opinion

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”.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

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

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Could the central Asian 'stan' states turn away from Moscow?

The former Soviet states of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan have retained close ties with Russia since 1989. Yet this consensus may be shifting. At the UN, none of them supported Russia in the resolution condemning the Ukraine invasion.

Column

Is this strange summer a moment of change?

It is a strange, strange summer. The war in Ukraine continues, 60 percent of Europe is in danger of drought, and Covid is still around and could rebound in the autumn. At the same time, everyone is desperate for normalcy.

Russia puts EU in nuclear-energy paradox

There's unprecedented international anxiety about the safety of Ukraine's nuclear reactors, but many European countries are also turning to nuclear power to secure energy supplies.

News in Brief

  1. China joins Russian military exercises in Vostok
  2. Ukraine nuclear plant damage would be 'suicide', says UN chief
  3. Denmark to invest €5.5bn in new warships
  4. German economy stagnates, finance ministry says
  5. Syria received stolen grain, says Ukraine envoy
  6. Truss still leads in next UK PM polling
  7. UN chief meets Zelensky and Erdogan over grain exports
  8. Fighting stalls ahead of UN visit, Ukraine says

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  2. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  4. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis

Latest News

  1. European inflation hits 25-year high, driven by energy spike
  2. No breakthrough in EU-hosted Kosovo/Serbia talks
  3. Letter to the Editor: Rosatom responds on Zaporizhzhia
  4. Could the central Asian 'stan' states turn away from Moscow?
  5. Serbia expects difficult talks with Kosovo at EU meeting
  6. How scary is threat to Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant?
  7. Slovakia's government stares into the abyss
  8. Finland restricts Russian tourist visas

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us