Can fake news truly sway an election? In America, the possibility presents an ongoing argument, even as sites pushing stories like Pizzagate are more focused on their bottom line than the potential consequences of their actions. Just this week the New York Times documented precisely how a recent graduate of Davidson College made $22,000 off a single fake news story about ballots for Hillary Clinton being discovered in an Ohio warehouse. But that’s not stopping the sellers of fake news from deploying the dubious tool elsewhere in the world to influence other elections and for, potentially, darker purposes than one would ever imagine.
The most notable current fake news target in the developed world happens to be Germany. Presently, Chancellor Angela Merkel is fending off swarms of fake news stories that would hope to compromise her chances in Germany’s federal elections later this year, as Buzzfeed explains:
Echoing what was seen during the US election, many of these sites mix legitimate partisan political content with false and conspiratorial information, especially about refugees and Islam, in order to inspire passion and increase social engagement. Large right-wing pages in the US are also increasingly sharing anti-Merkel content, helping it gain wider distribution on Facebook.
This situation is particularly dangerous for one telling reason — Merkel is brokering an uneasy peace between the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) and the Christian Socialist Union of Bavaria (CSU). The latter is more socially conservative and religious than the former. Further, the current government is run by a coalition between these two parties and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SDP). Any split between the CSU and the CDU could put Merkel’s prime minister role on the block and potentially open the door to a small but growing anti-immigration, far-right contingent.
While experts view it as unlikely that Merkel will be forced out of her role in the next election, she, and the rest of Europe, are facing down not just fake news, but attempts to use fears of immigrants and the shifting culture of Germany against her. And nowhere is this clearer than in the attempts of fake newsmakers to make Germany’s Muslims seem like a threat.