Merkel warns against fake news driv­ing pop­ulist gains

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel warned yes­ter­day against the power of fake news on so­cial me­dia to spur the rise of pop­ulists, af­ter launch­ing her cam­paign for a fourth term. Speak­ing in par­lia­ment for the first time since her an­nounce­ment Sun­day that she would seek re-elec­tion next year, Merkel cau­tioned that pub­lic opin­ion was be­ing “ma­nip­u­lated” on the in­ter­net. “Some­thing has changed-as glob­al­iza­tion has marched on, (po­lit­i­cal) de­bate is tak­ing place in a com­pletely new me­dia en­vi­ron­ment. Opin­ions aren’t formed the way they were 25 years ago,” she said. “Today we have fake sites, bots, trolls-things that re­gen­er­ate them­selves, re­in­forc­ing opin­ions with cer­tain al­go­rithms and we have to learn to deal with them.”

Merkel, 62, said the chal­lenge for democrats was to “reach and in­spire peo­ple-we must con­front this phe­nom­e­non and if nec­es­sary, reg­u­late it.” She said she sup­ported ini­tia­tives by her right-left coali­tion gov­ern­ment to crack down on “hate speech” on so­cial me­dia in the face of what she said were “con­cerns about the sta­bil­ity of our fa­mil­iar or­der”. “Pop­ulism and po­lit­i­cal ex­tremes are grow­ing in Western democ­ra­cies,” she warned. Last week, Google and Face­book moved to cut off ad rev­enue to bo­gus news sites af­ter a US elec­tion cam­paign in which the global mis­in­for­ma­tion in­dus­try may have in­flu­enced the out­come of the vote.

But me­dia watch­ers say more is needed to stamp out a pow­er­ful phe­nom­e­non seen by some ex­perts as a threat to democ­racy it­self. Merkel’s con­ser­va­tive Christian Democrats are the odds-on fa­vorites to win the Ger­man na­tional elec­tion, ex­pected in Septem­ber or Oc­to­ber 2017. But she is fac­ing a strong chal­lenge from a resur­gent rightwing pop­ulist party, Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many (AfD), which has her lib­eral refugee and mi­gra­tion pol­icy in its crosshairs. It is cur­rently polling at around 12-13 per­cent which could com­pli­cate the com­plex maths of coali­tion build­ing af­ter the poll. All of Ger­many’s main­stream par­ties have for now ruled out form­ing an al­liance with the AfD. — AFP

BER­LIN: Combo of pic­tures shows Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel ges­tur­ing as she gives a speech dur­ing a ses­sion at the Bun­destag (lower house of par­lia­ment) yes­ter­day in Ber­lin. Merkel ad­dressed the par­lia­ment on key do­mes­tic and for­eign is­sues dur­ing a week of bud­get de­bate. —AFP

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