Chancellor Angela Merkel intends to run for a fourth term in the upcoming German elections and is shaking in her boots. During a meeting at the lower house of parliament Bundestag on the 2017 budget in Berlin (AFP), she expressed concerns over the potential for bots, trolls, and fake news to manipulate the upcoming race. She’s right to be worried, too. The United States just elected a loud-mouthed Nationalist as their President. If America is giving any indication of what’s to come on a global scale, Merkel just may get dropped like a bad habit.
In her speech, Ms. Merkel said: “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.”
She is referring to the onslaught of fake news, tweets, and Facebook posts that many claim helped Donald Trump get elected in the United States. Merkel went on to say that a lack of regulation (on the internet) is to blame for this phenomenon:
“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.”
Mark Zuckerberg, Chief Executive of Facebook, said that Facebook is working to develop a warning system for better fake news detection, and a method to flag posts and advertisements as misinformation. After the US election and accusations of fake news impacting results, he said: "I think the idea that fake news on Facebook -- of which it's a small amount of content -- influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea." Many accusers went on long-winded rants, claiming that Facebook was ultimately responsible for the election of Donald Trump.
Google is also taking action against peddlers of fake news stories. On Monday, the search engine said it would ban websites that promote fake news from using its advertising service. Google received some backlash from the public as well, with claims that after the US presidential election, top search results included misinformation claiming that Donald Trump had beaten Hillary Clinton in the popular vote. In a statement, Google spokesperson Andrea Faville said: “In this case, we clearly didn’t get it right, but we are continually working to improve our algorithms.”
Chancellor Merkel’s concerns seem justified. When two powerhouses like Facebook and Google both admit that there are issues in the way that their platforms advertise and promote information (or misinformation in this case), there is a real issue. With the rise of right-wing parties in Germany and Europe, she warned: “Populism and political extremes are growing in Western democracies.” One alt-right party, in particular, continues to gain popularity in Germany, nipping at the heels of the long-standing Chancellor: the Alternative for Germany (AfD).
In our last article about the rise of the alt-right in Europe, we touched briefly on the AfD. The Alternative for Germany is a right-wing nationalist party that will run in the 2017 German election. They’re gaining ground on the Internet - raking in over 300,000 likes on Facebook, while Merkel’s party (Christian Democrat Party) and others are lagging behind.
The AfD is blunt with their core principles and intentions. They are anti-immigration, anti-Islam, and promote a homogeneous society for the German people. Party leader Frauke Petry has made some entertaining headlines in the news, saying that German police should shoot migrants entering the country illegally “if necessary,” and compared multicultural societies to a compost heap:
“What are we to think of these ‘Germany is colorful campaigns?’ A compost heap is also colorful."
Whew, lassie. She doesn’t mix races or words, does she?
Earlier this year, the AfD also drafted a proposal to ban all mosques in Germany. The policy titled Courage to take responsibility states that “Islam does not belong to Germany.” It goes on further to state that the Koran is “full of lies and deception,” and claims Islam “has already arrived at its declared path to world domination in 57 out of 190 countries.” If the prospect of this party winning elections in Germany doesn’t scare the liberal-to-moderate citizens of the nation, I don’t know what will.
With right-wing groups taking advantage of digital marketing, they’re gaining popularity in the polls. Whether these parties are actively hiring fake news writers to spin stories in their favor or not is irrelevant – it’s working. If nationalist/populist candidates can win in the United States by punching the politically correct establishment in the face, they can win in Germany as well. Many German citizens are tired of multiculturalism. They’re sick of seeing migrants flood their streets, with no marketable skills or intentions of bettering themselves. They want things to be the way they once were – Germany for German people.
Nationalism is on the rise in the western world, and I don’t think that suppressing fake news will kill the momentum. I doubt that phony stories of “Merkel is losing Germany,” or “Chancellor Merkel has HIV” would be the deciding factors in the upcoming election. The bottom line is that a homogeneous society is starting to seem attractive to the Germans – dealing with millions of migrants in the last couple of years has pushed citizens over the edge. At this point, the AfD would probably find success in taking some of Trump’s catchphrases and campaign slogans for good measure. After all, Germany First has a nice ring to it.