Following Donald Trump’s surprise election victory, Facebook’s content propagation policies have come into question for possibly influencing the election results. But, it’s not just the Americans who are worried about how sensationalist websites could have impacted the democratic process. German Chancellor in her first speech since announcing her decision of running for a fourth term called for greater scrutiny of fake news circulating online.
Post-election statistics have shown that fake stories proved more viral on social media than important articles with legitimate sources.
Fake news and internet trolls threaten Germany’s election – Merkel
In her speech given to the Bundestag, German Parliament, Merkel said on Wednesday the government has ignored the potential of fake news influencing public opinion for far too long. It has been questioned since November 8 to what extent did these stories – that were presented as legitimate media outlets – shape the voter opinions.
“Something has changed – as globalization has marched on, [political] debate is taking place in a completely new media environment. Opinions aren’t formed the way they were 25 years ago,” Merkel, who represents a center-right political party, said in the Bundestag. “Today we have fake sites, bots, trolls – things that regenerate themselves, reinforcing opinions with certain algorithms, and we have to learn to deal with them.”
Germany will hold national elections in September next year, and many suspect that the far-right party might win the election based on these sensationalist stories and populist fears about immigration.
“I believe we should not underestimate what is happening in the context of the Internet and with digitalization; this is part of our reality,” Merkel said. “We have regulations that allow for our press freedom, including the requirement for due diligence from journalists. Today we have many that experience a media that is based on very different foundations and is much less regulated.”
The concerns of political polarization only heightened after the reports of the far-right Breitbart News, the highly conservative and pro-Trump news site, planning to launch in German ahead of the election. Berlin is now discussing whether the government should regulate online media sites similar to the scrutiny of newspapers, radio and TV broadcasters.
“Populism and political extremes are growing in Western democracies,” Merkel warned. “A lot of people are concerned about the stability of our social order. Suddenly it seems that what we considered self-evident isn’t that self-evident after all.”