German 'call for government unit to fight fake news'

Neo-Nazi propaganda on YouTube - file pic Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Neo-Nazi propaganda - racist myths are spread easily on social media

German officials have proposed creating a special government unit to combat fake news in the run-up to next year's general election, reports say.

A document quoted by the Spiegel news website calls for an "anti-disinformation centre" in Chancellor Angela Merkel's administration.

The US government believes that fake news stories sent via Facebook, Google and Twitter helped Donald Trump to win the November presidential election.

It accuses Russia of election meddling.

A special EU team, called East StratCom, documents what it calls Russian "disinformation". It issues a weekly bulletin highlighting the alleged myths and distortions, as well as a Twitter feed called EU Mythbusters.

Spotlight on minorities

"In view of the [2017] parliamentary election, action must be taken very quickly," the document quoted by Spiegel says.

It calls for an information campaign targeting the Russian- and Turkish-origin minorities in Germany, seen as especially vulnerable to fake news.

Image caption German parliament: Nationalists are challenging the centrist parties' political dominance

Liberal politicians fear that nationalists - among them the Alternative for Germany (AfD) - and pro-Kremlin activists are getting recruits easily on social media.

"Acceptance of a post-fact age would be tantamount to a political surrender," the document warns.

Germany's bitter experiences under the Nazis and communists, however, make any moves towards censorship highly controversial.

Russian influence

Earlier this month German officials warned that Russian hackers could undermine the German election through cyber attacks.

Chancellor Merkel is one of the EU's strongest voices in favour of maintaining sanctions on Russia. EU-US sanctions were imposed after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014.

The Obama administration says the Kremlin was behind the hacking of US Democratic Party computers during the election campaign.

Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed that accusation on Friday. He suggested that the Democrats were bad losers, who should examine themselves to learn why so many voters opted for the Republicans.

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