Tackling Disinformation Facebook Pledges to Fight Fake News in Germany

With Germany facing a hard-fought election this year, social media giant Facebook has announced measures to tackle fake news in the country. It includes having independent fact checkers flag disinformation and lies posted on the social network.
Quelle: dpa
Facebook is going to create tools to make it easier to report articles that users suspect of being false.
(Source: dpa)

Facebook is responding to demands from German authorities to crack down on fake news and online hate speech.

The social media giant has set up a mechanism to flag fake news stories in Germany, which will hold a general election this fall.

The non-profit investigative journalism bureau, Correctiv, is to expose and correct false stories that have been posted on the social network.

The cooperation with the group of journalist fact-checkers, formed in 2014 and funded by donation and foundations, will start in a few weeks.

Facebook will create tools to make it easier to report articles that users suspect of being false, along with warnings that posted statements have been identified as false by the Correctiv fact-checkers.

"We are working very carefully on a solution to this problem. Our efforts are focused on the distribution of unique false alarms generated by spammers. We have also used third parties to provide objective, unbiased reviews of news," Facebook said in a statement on Sunday.

We are determined to do as much as we can to fight fake news. Our democracy must not be abused by lies and liars. Correctiv, Investigative Journalism Non-Profit

Facebook also want to find ways to cut off advertising revenue for sites publishing fake news in Germany, as it has already started to do in the United States.

The California-based company has been massively criticized for allowing fake news to run rampant in the recent U.S. election campaign.

“Facebook’s announcement is only to be welcomed,” said Stephan Harbarth, deputy parliamentary leader of the governing conservative Christian Democrats. “Finally the company is stepping up to its responsibility to protect democratic opinion-shaping without external distortion and manipulation. But now the announcements must be implemented rapidly.”

With a federal election due in September and state elections in Saarland, Schleswig-Holstein and North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW) in March and May, politicians are worried about negative interference, such as hate-inciting commentary, insults and plain lies posted on social networks swaying election outcomes.

"Fake news - especially on Facebook - is already one of the major threats of our society. That is clear,” Correctiv said in a statement. “We fear that these threats will become even more massive in the coming months, whether it is the NRW election or the election of the next Bundestag in autumn.”

"For this reason, we are determined to do as much as we can to fight fake news. Our democracy must not be abused by lies and liars," it added.

The social media networks will be compelled to respond to complaints within 24 hours, said Volker Kauder, the CDU parliamentary floor leader. The Social Democrat justice minister, Heiko Maas, would draw up the corresponding bill, he said. Companies that fail to tackle fake news could face stiff fines.

In December, Thomas Oppermann, the SPD parliamentary floor leader, called for penalties of up to half a million euros for social networks that failed to delete hate speech or fake news hosted on their platforms.

The chief supervisor of elections, Dieter Sarreither, who is also the chief federal statistician, has said fake news might even exert influence on actual election days – for example with a false claim that certain polling stations were closed.

Moreover, he expects more attacks on the administration network. “We’re girding ourselves for a range of cyberattack strategies and are doing dry runs of many scenarios,” Mr. Sarreither told the Sunday paper, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

Mr. Maas expects most of the attacks to come from Russia. According to security authorities, Russian groups carried out recent cyberattacks on the lower house of the federal parliament, the Bundestag, and the political parties, Mr. Maas told the Sunday paper, Welt am Sonntag.


Martin Greive and Peter Thelen are Handelsblatt correspondents covering politics from Berlin. Siobhán Dowling, an editor with Handelsblatt  Global, contributed to this article. To contact the authors: [email protected], [email protected]