Is Germany Immune to Fake News?
By all accounts, January is the most depressing month. I understand why. However, “Blue Monday” 2017 is perhaps shaping up to be the most depressing of the last twenty years. With the putrid taste of 2016 still lingering in the mouths of many, 2017 could be its equal, if not horrifyingly worse. Then again, perhaps it isn’t. Maybe we have been lied to all this time and January is actually a month of candy, unicorns and rainbow coloured leprechauns. In this post fact world of fake news and manipulative algorithms, maybe the idea that January is so terrible is simply a hoax perpetrated by suspicious power brokers in expensive suits. I blame the left and the right, but mostly I blame Meryl Streep.
How can we trust anything we read or watch or hear. My wife told me to put the bins out, but I’m not entirely sure we even have a bin. I could check, but that is exactly what she would want me to do. I will not be fooled. Looking out my window, I can see it is snowing, but I how can I trust my windows? Those transparent bastards have an agenda, I know it. I read a Facebook post about it.
So here we are then, in a world where everything is false, especially if it conflicts with my opinion. In 2016, it was the UK and the US that bore the brunt of the post fact onslaught, with the right wing creating massaged statistics, bald faced lies and insane theories about political paedophile pizza shops. Then again, the left hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory, showing they were equally capable of spouting utter rubbish, yet it seems that the right have won the world title for fake news content. Then again, I would say that. I’m a biased left wing pterodactyl, slapping laptop keys with my oversized wings.
If the UK and the US were the targets of 2016, Germany and France are in the cross hairs of the fake news generators. With elections in both countries this year, there are clear expectations that they will be inundated with curious stories about intelligent mice operating Angela Merkl or that French presidential candidate François Fillon is actually three children, on each other shoulders, wearing a trench coat. Thankfully, the most preposterous fake news is only believed by the truly idiotic or at least that’s what keeps me from simply giving up the ghost.
The more insidious fake news or more correctly propaganda, is sometimes harder to spot, especially if it is being sold on a news stand or it’s former executive chairman has the ear of the President elect of the united states.
Having barely cracked the seal of 2017, Germany had its first taste of things to come last week when news began to circulate that a mob shouting “Allahu Akbar” had set fire to a church in Dortmund during New Years Eve celebrations. The story was shared by tens of thousands over social media until the German police were forced to clarify that it was a total fabrication. The source of the news? Breitbart.
When I read the story, I surmised that many of the shares would have come from residents of the US. As good as Germans are at English, Breitbart is hardly a well known news outlet, if we can even call their bigoted, baseless burbling news. Luckily for the imbeciles of Germany, Breitbart intend to expand their production line of parping hatred to Germany when they release a German language version later this year.
If that wasn’t enough, reports last year and this year have connected Russia, everyone’s favourite fact and vote manipulators, with targeted cyber attacks and spreading disinformation. I’m sure the AfD and Frauke Petry are already getting giddy at the idea.
That being said, should the controversial head of the growing right wing movement in Germany be measuring the Chancellors office for drapes? Probably not. Although the AfD are expected to make some significant gains in this year’s election, I find it hard to believe, barring any monumental disasters, that those gains will be enough to unseat the current incumbent.
The basis for much of this is the core understanding Germany has for the dangers of extreme ideologues. Germans, especially in recent generations, via comprehensive education have a better understanding of their own countries history. Not that there is cloud of guilt that many outside Germany imagine, but that Germany has made many attempts to guard against the growth of extremist political viewpoints. Whether that’s in school, where the horrors of National Socialism and Communism or covered in many classes, not just history, but also in the make-up of its federal democracy. The 5% threshold requires political parties to reach at least that number to even gain seats in state and national government. In practice, this prevents wing-nut politicians from gaining a foothold.
In addition, and possibly even more fundamental is the German cultural corner stone of honesty. Germans hate dishonesty. Sometimes this makes conversation difficult, due to small talk being seen as a waste of time because it has no clear function other than verbal bullshit. It also has an impact on humour. The Germans aren’t humourless, they are just contextual. Irony, in the English speaking world, operates at all levels primarily to express something using language that means the opposite. One might expect that in the middle of a TV show, play or stand-up set, not in the middle of meeting or working in the office. Germans have highly tuned bullshit meters.
Finally, the German government are discussing putting one of their more terrifying weapons at the forefront of the defence; their monolithic bureaucracy. Plans are already in place to create a department dedicated to combating fake news. Woe-betide those who cross a German Beamter (civil servant). They have a myriad of forms and paperwork and you better be damn sure they know how to use it.
Historians may ponder how 2016 changed the world, but I am hoping that 2017 shows that partisanship, ignorance and lack of critical thought can be beaten using the simple tools at the disposal of every German. Then again, I’m probably not to be trusted. After all, I’m a pterodactyl.