Now Germany Wants To Criminalize Fake News

from the this-is-a-bad-idea dept

Oh boy. Ever since people started ridiculously blaming fake news on Facebook for the election outcome, we’ve pointed out that these calls will be used to justify censorship of opposing views — and that’s a very bad thing. We’ve already seen authoritarian countries with long histories of punishing and silencing dissent jump on the “fake news is a problem!” bandwagon to justify heavy handed censorship. Both China and Iran have pointed to “fake news” as a reason for new internet censorship plans.

But, of course, now the disease is spreading, and spreading quickly. Over in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has now endorsed a proposal to criminalize publishing fake news. Let’s repeat that: she’s endorsing a plan to make it a criminal offense to publish “fake news.”

Angela Merkel is as good as her word: the German chancellor is backing a new law that would ban fake news stories distributed via social media, according to German newspapers. The move comes amid growing concern that fake news on social media influenced the outcome of the U.S. presidential election, and could play a similar role in Germany?s own upcoming elections.

Politicians from Merkel?s conservative Christian Democratic Union are proposing a law that would require social media sites to immediately remove fake news stories and make the publishing of such articles a criminal offense. The CDU currently governs in coalition with the leftwing Social Democratic Party as well as its own sister party, the Bavarian Christian Social Union, giving the government an easy majority and making it very likely that the law will pass, perhaps with some revisions after parliamentary debate.

This is an out and out pro-censorship law which will be abused. And the really scary thing is that with all this hype about “fake news,” it appears the general public in traditionally open democracies may cheer on this plan for government-mandated censorship. A new Pew Center study suggests the hype around fake news has tons of Americans believing it’s a much bigger problem than it really is. But the really scary part is that, according to the survey, many believe that the government should be responsible for stopping fake news. In fact, more people would put a large part of the burden on the government than on internet companies or… (wait for it…) the public themselves:

If you can’t see that, 45% of respondents say that “a great deal of responsibility” for “preventing completely made up news from gaining attention” should fall on “government, politicians and elected officials.” 42% say the same thing for platforms and 43% apply that standard to the public themselves. Obviously, these numbers are pretty close, suggesting they could be seen as about equal — but that’s still ridiculous. The government should not be in the business of deciding what is “fake news.” It would fundamentally upset one of the basic concepts of freedom of expression.

Again, none of this is to say that timelines flooded with blatantly hoax stories (again, the definition of “fake news” seems to morph with what one’s beliefs are…) is a good thing. And it seems that approaches like the one that Facebook is now taking seem perfectly reasonable (providing more information, rather than blocking, and combining user feedback with expert fact checking to vet stories that deserve additional informational flags). But the idea that the government should take responsibility leads to ridiculous ideas like criminalizing “fake” news stories, which will only justify crackdowns like the ones in China and Iran even more.

As the Washington Post’s always astute Margaret Sullivan notes, politicians are the last people who should be judging what is, and what is not, fake news — since it allows them to tilt the scales on issues directly impacting their own jobs:

Government involvement is a seriously bad idea. It could put the question of what constitutes real news and what constitutes fake news in the hands of those who may be most affected by it.

Indeed, this seems to directly be the case with the plan to criminalize fake news in Germany. As the quote above noted, the reason it’s even up for debate there is because of “concern” that fake news could impact the upcoming election. Totally false news that people fall for can certainly be annoying — but (again) we’re mostly talking about confirmation bias. People believing stories because it fits their existing worldview. It’s not like they’d change their position magically if they didn’t see the fake news stories. And, even if they did, that’s no excuse for criminalizing fake news — which is only going to create a massive headache, and put freedom of the press and freedom of expression at serious risk.

Though, it will be amusing when German officials try to charge The Onion with criminal offenses…

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Comments on “Now Germany Wants To Criminalize Fake News”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Of course, this is just one way..

That is actually a good point. Will the government sue the government?

The problem is that information is unlimited and false information is used as an encouragement to commit terrorism.

The solutions as we hear them today would either be to censor or to hire government funded propagandists. Neither of those are anywhere close to desirable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Of course, this is just one way..

“false information is used as an encouragement to commit terrorism”

The main reason for the existence of “Fake News” is to generate income.

One person’s fake news is another persons real news.

Depending upon one’s definition(s), one particular news article could be both fake and real at the same time.

Bottom line, and lets not mince words here, this is an attempt at state sanctioned censorship – plain and simple.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Because reasons?

Is it that there are a plethora of empty prisons in Germany that need filling expeditiously?

Or is there a trend towards private commercial prisons in Germany that need filling expeditiously?

Or is it really that there is a worldwide trend toward authoritarianism whereby those in power have an unrelenting drive to remain in power and dictate to those not in power whatever their moral perceptions may be? When, internationally, those moral perceptions are different, will there be wars to impose one moral perception upon others?

Oh, wait…that is already happening. Why would anyone not on that imposing side wish to expand potential for the imposing side to win?

CommerceIsntFreeSpeech says:

What freedom of press, it's Germany

The old grouch in me says,

It’s Germany, they don’t have the U.S constitution or bill of rights to abide by with it’s freedom of press and for them the stakes are much higher as election are around the corner and they are taking preventative measures unlike in the U.S. that gives tax breaks to groups that claim they are educating the populace using fake information.

Let their experiment in quashing fake news commence.

If it works import it here in the U.S. cause what you’re missing in this story Mike is that it’s commerce and commerce can AND SHOULD be regulated.

Just saying, freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom to harm, we have hate crimes in the U.S. which block types of speech, perhaps add another category here in the U.S. called state sponsored foreign propaganda and block the crap out of it. Cause right now, so called freedom of speech is being used against the U.S. to great effect.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What freedom of press, it's Germany

we have hate crimes in the U.S. which block types of speech

No, we don’t. Hate speech is not a crime in the US. Directly inciting violence is a crime(e.g. shouting "beat the shit out of him" to a mob menacing someone). Making threats is a crime(e.g. telling someone "I’m going to catch you out one of these nights and beat your ass dead."). The perpetrator using the appropriate racial or sexual slurs for victim of a crime can be held up as proof it was a hate crime. But the speech itself is not crime.

perhaps add another category here in the U.S. called state sponsored foreign propaganda and block the crap out of it.

Fuck no. First of all, it would be a violation of the First Amendment. Second, it’s a horrible idea because whoever was in power would label any inconvenient news they don’t like to be foreign propaganda. Just like the democrats are currently busy claiming that Wikileaks publishing DNC emails is Russian propaganda.

Baron von Robber says:

Re: Re: Re: What freedom of press, it's Germany

Indeed, he was on his way to Comet Ping Pong pizza to order a “sardine special with extra sauce” but his tracking device implanted into his chest by the greys, alerted the FBI, NSA and ASPCA. In a group hit squad made up of geriatric I-beam welders, they snuck up on poor Seth and took him out before he could testify before the U.N., Infowars and Oprah.

They think we are fools but they’ll soon learn when Der Drumpfins gets to the bottom of it.

Frozen Njal (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Natural authoritarian principles. Plus a lot of people have been spooked by terrorist issues, Brexit and Trump. It’s like an illiberal-liberal over-reaction, kind of like an auto-immune disease:

“Look, the alt-right thrives on fake news, let’s criminalise it so we can criminalise them, because we’ll never abuse it or hit unintended, harmless Onions with it…”

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Correct, but authoritarianism is everybody’s problem. The extent to which it becomes a problem to individuals and groups depends on who’s in charge at any given time.

The alt-right is running the show now. Proof: neoliberalism run amuck; demonisation of vulnerable people as workshy scroungers or potential terrorists (depending on where they’re from).

Tin-Foil-Hat says:

Why is the first solution to criminalize it?

Why is the first proposed “solution” to a problem to criminalize it? People have been lying to each other throughout recorded history and probably before that. Not believing everything you read has been a thing for just as long. Unless it rises to criminal fraud wasting resources and putting yet another law in the books is just stupid.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Why is the first solution to criminalize it?

Because the main tool of government is law. Just look at the video on YouTube of Obama laughing while asking how Trump was going to get Carrier to stay in the US. Then Trump, being a business man and deal maker, made it happen. He knows laws aren’t the solution but the problem.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Why is the first solution to criminalize it?

Different people interpret what they read and hear in different ways, using slightly (or more) altered definitions of words, gestures and tones.

You could have ten people in a room reading/listening to the same thing and afterwards you would get ten different summaries of what it was about.

Frozen Njal (profile) says:

Re: Re: Why is the first solution to criminalize it?

Why is it everyone keeps politicising everything here when it’s a studiously neutral article? You won, get over it and take responsibility for your upcoming sh*tstorm… 😉

And since you mention it, apparently Trump never met a law he couldn’t bend or ignore 😉

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Why is the first solution to criminalize it?

It was brought up as an example of people only seeing things one way. A politicians only tool is law, a businessman tool is negotiations.

I am quite interested to see what Trumps administrating will do. So far the only shit storm is being caused by angry liberals whose only took seems to be violence

Anonymous Coward says:

Back in the US of A, can’t imagine that anyone would have an issue with letting the new administration determine what is fake news or not ….

Shouldn’t the MSM & Hollywood have some serious adult supervision from Republicans??? Can’t see any problems with that

Here’s hoping that the pesky Constitution gets in the way of the growing desire to let government help us interpret the news.

Machin Shin (profile) says:

One thing I find hilarious about all this stuff though is how everyone is just scrambling to find something to blame for why Trump won the election. In all the scrambling though it seems very few people are willing to admit that maybe it was because people were sick of politics and Trump, while he might be a lot of things (most of them bad), he isn’t a typical politician.

Anonymous Coward says:

So, Germany wants to criminalize:

-The Onion and other satire
-supermarket tabloids
-yellow journalism
-conspiracy theorists
-state sponsored news (if it’s a state they don’t like)
-exclusive scoops by minor outlets using anonymous sources
-news that contradicts the government’s official position on things.

Yeah, I can see why the government thinks it’s a great idea.

Anonymous Coward says:

Just remember, this is what we can expect from a Trump presidency.

/s for anyone who didn’t spot the mockery of the anti-Trumpers’ hypocrisy. And I don’t blame you if you didn’t spot it, raging hypocrisy boners seem to be rapidly becoming a defining feature of the democratic party. “We have to act how we think Trump will in order to prevent Trump from acting like us!”

Baron von Robber says:

Re: Re: Re: The story about fake news is the fake news

There is evidence…

“Democratic National Committee (2016)[edit]
Fancy Bear carried out spear phishing attacks on email addresses associated with the Democratic National Committee in the first quarter of 2016.[35] The malware used in the attack sent stolen data to the same servers that were used for the group’s 2015 attack on the German parliament.[1] “

dosvedanya, comrade

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 The story about fake news is the fake news

Exactly. Claims by the DNC and NY Times are not evidence. If there was evidence it would be trotted out. But it hasn’t been and won’t be. Now that the electoral college has done its duty, the hack will move to the back burner of the news cycle.

John Cressman (profile) says:

Yah Fake News!

Ban fake news… burn some books… You Go Germany!

Seriously… how long until the MPAA deems Techdirt “fake news”?

“Fake News” if VERY often in the eye of the beholder. Whatever the establishment deems is “credible” news – through the control and cherry-picking of facts – becomes the “real” news… so everything else must be “fake” news.

It really is nothing more than a more grab by those in power to control what people see.

Look at Facebook. They will start deciding what is fake by checking it with far left partisan fact checkers, who have been proved wrong time and time again with ACTUAL facts.

It is abhorrent.

Baron von Robber says:

Re: Yah Fake News!

There is such a thing as ‘fake news’. NPR tracked down one owner, a liberal democrat, that has around a half dozen writers, to make money from ads at his fake sites.

He tried writing to both liberals and conservatives, but only one side usually took the bait.

“Coler says his writers have tried to write fake news for liberals — but they just never take the bait.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Breaking FAKE NEWS... Fake news stories of the impact of fake news have resulted in real results...

Fake news stories broadcasting the horrible impact of fake news stories have drowned out all the fake news stories that would normally be making the headlines in your daily papers and social media accounts…

This has resulted in the passing of laws to eliminate all forms of news, since nobody can seem to tell what’s fake and what’s real, we will just have to outlaw all news reporting.

Those rumors of the best way to respond to bad or fake speech with more speech, yeah, those didn’t work so it’s outright government sponsored censorship coming to a democracy near you any day now.

Just remember, any news that the government doesn’t agree with is “fake news” and due to the new laws we just passed, the publishers of fake news will be hanged, electrocuted, and receive lethal injection, followed by being drawn and quartered for good measure. The entire “Fake news re-education process” will be published as a daily live feed, direct from Guantanamo Bay, in the new government news feed brought to you by AT&T (the only telecom company that survived the trump-telecom wars of 2024), Taco Bell, and the 3 sea shells (if you have to ask you are doing it wrong)…

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If they have an office or employees in Germany or do business there – say, selling advertising – then they’re subject to German laws.

Back in the 1990s the top executive of Compuserve’s German subsidiary was arrested and convicted because CompuServe USA linked to Usenet, and thus made the German executive personally responsible for any child porn found on Usenet. (The verdict was overturned years later.)

He was also convicted on further charges, in that the games "Doom", "Heretic" and "Wolfenstein 3D" were available on CompuServe forums and were harmful to children.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Nah. At this point the claim’s non-credibility too much of a joke to be taken seriously by the general population.

Heck, the claim even served the Bush II administration. Those asking the more reasonable question of what warnings the White House ignored, could be grouped in and painted with the same brush as the holographic airplane ranters.

Châu says:


Law have punishments for censor news believe is fake but later discover is TRUE? Also WHO can decide which news story is true or fake? What process and evidence, how much evidence need for prove true? Theory and speculation about stuff become illegal? What if can’t prove true or false?

I think governments’ next step is punish share fake INFORMATION, not only news. Books from religions, fake or true?

News will go UNDERGROUND, governments can try ban what they want but not mean stuff will disappear.

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