By Valentina Zarya
August 10, 2017

Valentina Zarya here, filling in for Claire this week.

Angela Merkel is determined to fight fake news. As the most powerful leader in Europe and one of Russian President Putin’s most vocal critics, the German Chancellor has long been a target of Russian influence campaigns. Time‘s Simon Shuster points out that, “troves of emails were stolen from her political allies in 2015 by the same Russian hackers who later targeted the U.S. presidential race.”

With German elections coming up next month, the stakes are even higher. Merkel knows that her bid for a fourth term in office may be subject to the same kind of voter manipulation that Hillary Clinton faced in the U.S. presidential race. And it’s not just that Russian media outlets spread disinformation; they also use bots that help false reports go viral much faster than fact-checkers can debunk them.

The German leader is taking action. Her coalition in parliament proposed a law at the end of June that will impose fines worth upwards of $50 million on Facebook and other social media sites that do not promptly remove “illegal content” (a term that encompasses everything from hate speech and pornography to malicious propaganda). Whether that law passes will tell us a lot about what to expect about the upcoming German election. As Shuster writes:

Either the campaign will unfold in the same atmosphere of hacks, leaks and disinformation that marred the U.S. elections last fall, or they will progress in typically German fashion, orderly and somewhat boring, under the rules that Merkel’s government is trying to rewrite on the fly.



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