This document may not be reprinted without the express written permission of Texarkana Gazette, 2017 french election. Russia Has Launched a Fake News War on Europe. One morning in November, Simon Hegelich, a professor of political science at the Technical University of Munich, was surprised to get an urgent invitation from the office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who wanted to hear more about his research on the manipulation of voter sentiment.
Less than two weeks earlier, the U. What was past, Merkel thought, may be prologue. With German elections scheduled for Sept. 24, the Chancellor knows that her bid for a fourth term in office may be subject to the same dirty tricks employed in the U.
As Europe’s most powerful leader and its most determined critic of the Kremlin, Merkel has long been a target of Russian influence campaigns. Her concern is not just the Russian media outlets that spread disinformation, Hegelich says. 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. When American voters were shown a series of such stories from the U. So Merkel’s government is preparing for a siege.
Merkel’s government has used to target everything from hate speech and pornography to malicious propaganda. Political leaders in Washington are well aware of the challenge. In an interview with MSNBC aired on Aug. 6, the White House National Security Adviser H.
Germany’s Network Enforcement Act is among the more extreme reactions to this campaign, though it’s hardly the only one. The European Union has also created an office devoted to debunking fake news and Russian propaganda. Heiko Maas, Germany’s Federal Minister of Justice, during a meeting in Berlin on Jan. 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.
In some ways this is already happening. In an era when anonymous hackers can steal the secrets of virtually any politician, and where an Internet connection is all that’s needed to command an audience of millions, the rules fashioned and maintained by European democracies over decades are breaking down. What takes their place is anybody’s guess. But Russia and Germany have emerged as the most determined players in the scramble to adapt to this terrain and, where possible, to reshape it. The German vote will be an early test: either the campaign will unfold in the same atmosphere of hacks, leaks and disinformation that marred the U. Jutta Kramm and Jacques Pezet, members of the Correctiv factchecking team, at their office in Berlin on Aug.
The Network Enforcement Act, which is due to take effect in October, would give social networks a new, weightier role in our political debate. But neither can Facebook claim to be a neutral channel of communication, as indifferent to what its users say as the wires that connect our telephones. That passive approach went out the window during the 2016 elections. Within a week of Trump’s victory, Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and chief executive of Facebook, admitted that the public was right to ask about the company’s role in spreading fake news and about the impact it may have had on the elections. Rather than play the role of truth teller itself, Facebook has effectively outsourced it to independent fact-checkers, who sift through an endless stream of posts, articles, conspiracy theories and rumors and try to set the record straight. 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.