Bloomberg View’s Leonid Bershidsky argues that, owing to the greater resilience of German politics and a more honest media environment among other things, any Russian involvement in Germany’s elections would have more limited results. Here’s hoping.
Merkel’s Achilles heel in this election is the refugee crisis of 2015. I doubt, however, that much unpublished kompromat exists on that: Merkel’s mistakes in handling the crisis were extensively covered by the German press. And unlike Americans, whose trust in the media is at a historic low, Germans still trust traditional media.
There’s a notable difference between the ways relatively conservative Germans and tech-crazy Americans get their news. Only 20 percent of Americans find it in newspapers; 57 percent of Germans still read a newspaper or a magazine every day. That means the effectiveness of fake news campaigns and social network echo chambers won’t be as high in Germany as it was in the U.S.
Besides, Germans are far more amenable to speech restrictions than Americans. Germany has hate speech laws that would be impossible under the First Amendment. Calls to outlaw fake news or prosecute those who spread it are coming from many quarters, especially from Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union, and the other centrist political force — its coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party. Unlike in the U.S., the government in Germany has the ability to go after those who knowingly publish disinformation. A Russian TV journalist who reported on the fake rape earlier this year was briefly under investigation, though he wasn’t convicted.
On Tuesday, the leader of the Social Democrats, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, posted a photo of a handwritten message on Twitter: “A fair fight! That’s how we must fight the 2017 election — not like in the U.S.! No fake news, no bashing, no insults.” Gabriel wrote “fake news” and “bashing” in English. Germany doesn’t even have the kind of echo chambers of anti-establishment opinion that amplified the anti-Clinton line in the U.S., where a propaganda effort could just use the existing channel that gorged on the additional content. In Germany, the channel itself would need to be built.