“I find it sensible to toughen punishments for targeted campaigns,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party member, Ansgar Heveling, who is also head of the parliamentary internal affairs committee, to the Rheinische Post.
An initiative called Mimikama allows users to flag fake news. Photo: DPA.
Another member of Merkel’s conservative CDU party, Patrick Sensburg, also voiced similar ideas to publishing group Funke Mediengruppe on Tuesday.
“Disinformation aimed at destabilizing the state should be a punishable offence,” Sensburg said.
And a member of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the CSU, Stephan Mayer, told Reuters that there should be a criminal punishment for spreading fake news, also noting the impact that hackers may have in spreading false information.
Merkel herself has warned about the effect of fake news on politics and opinions, saying last month that the country must “confront this phenomenon and if necessary, regulate it”.
Chair of the Social Democrats’ (SPD) parliamentary group, Thomas Oppermann, told Funke Mediengruppe that in the fight against “made-up news, conspiracy theories, hate and smear campaigns,” the coalition government should rather focus on “sharpening” deficiencies. For example, by ensuring Facebook is obligated to quickly delete or correct news that is proven to be wrong.
Sensburg went a step further and suggested monitoring of fake news sites.
“On the other hand, we must consider if there should be some kind of ‘inspection authority’ that detects and tags propaganda sites,” Sensburg said.
On Monday the leader of the SPD and Vice Chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, called on Twitter for political parties to work together against the spread of false information.
“We the SPD call for solidarity of democrats to fight against means such as manipulative ‘social bots’ and against ‘fake news’,” Gabriel wrote.
The discussion of fake news comes amid concerns in the United States that false information and hackers influenced the election and ultimate victory of Donald Trump. Top US Republican leaders on Monday called for an investigation into possible Russian cyberattacks after it was reported that the CIA believed Russia had interfered in the presidential election to help Trump win.
Heveling of the CDU, too, said he suspected that Moscow would also try to manipulate the vote next September in Germany.
“Russia has an interest in dividing and upsetting our society,” Heveling told the Passauer Neue Presse.
“The danger is great.”