Germany resisting Russia’s fake news war on vulnerable Europe


German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s concern is not just the Russian media outlets that spread disinformation, says Simon Hegelich, a professor of political science at the Technical University of Munich. It is also the automated algorithms, known as bots, that help false reports go viral much faster than politicians or fact-checkers can debunk them, TIME’s Simon Shuster reports from Berlin:

When American voters were shown a series of such stories from the U.S. elections, about 15% reported seeing them during the race; 8% said they believed them, according to a study published this spring by Stanford University. In June, when researchers in Germany asked a similar set of questions, 59% of Germans reported seeing fake news online; 61% said that it poses a threat to democracy….In Germany, [Facebook’s] fact-checking partner is an investigative journalism start-up called Correctiv…. Jutta Kramm, the director of its four-person fact-checking team, doesn’t much care whether the fake news comes from Russia or from its ideological fellow travelers on the German right wing. She only wants to keep their propaganda out of her country’s elections.

“We just want to be prepared for them,” says Kramm, a former editor at the Berliner Zeitung newspaper. “It’s really important that we make our electoral decisions on the basis of facts and not lies.”

A new type of democracy?

“Democracy is all about public opinion,” Hegelich recalls telling Merkel when they met. “And if there are new ways to manipulate public opinion, then we will see a new type of democracy.”

Is Europe’s vulnerability to Russian propaganda enhanced by the unexpected return of nationalism, the rise of populism and eruption of “demographic panic”?

In a thought-provoking thirty-minute interview (above), Journal of Democracy contributor and Editorial Board member Ivan Krastev discusses these threats with the Open Society Foundations’ Leonard Benardo his widely praised new book After Europe:

In domestic politics, populists turn moral combat into mortal combat through denying their opponents’ legitimacy, says András Radnóti, a regular contributor to The Economist Intelligence Unit and Oxford. There, this means a breakdown of the checks on the executive and of the guarantees of fundamental rights, he writes for Visegrad Insight:

At the same time, populists introduce empty but radical moral division into international politics, whilst portraying opponents as enemies of the political community they claim alone to represent. This amounts to closing the door to international cooperation. It leads to the dissolution of values-based international political projects, and a reversal to a world of balancing, bargaining, and war. In international politics, coolness, reason, and tested institutions: trade, diplomacy, and international organisations may be the answer to the populist tide.


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