Disinformation in the digital public sphere

Social media and digital technologies create a new information and media system that poses an enormous challenge for democratic processes and their institutions. At the same time, traditional journalistic gatekeepers are fighting against the superiority of these platforms in a time where sustainable modern journalistic business models are nonexistent for the most part. The debate about "fake news" is symptomatic for this change, as the US-election campaign in 2016 demonstrated.

Although there has been a lively public debate about fake news in Germany, the discussions lacked empirical data. Therefore, we measured the phenomenon of "fake news" in Germany during the 2017 federal elections and created the first comprehensive empirical study on "fake news". We extensively analyzed qualitative and quantitative media content and contrasted the results with survey data. That way, we were able to show who in Germany shares fake news, who disseminates it and who tries to correct it. However, the data also shows that Germany is more resilient to disinformation than the American public. Among other factors, this is due to the pluralistic German media system which is generally very well trusted by the German public – also compared to other countries.

Our aim is to investigate which strategies are auspicious in countering disinformation (e.g. we studied the success of "fact checking"-approaches), and how the dissemination of manipulated information is related to increasing populism and a lack of media competence.

Our work on Fake News is supported by the Mercator Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Luminate.

Papers published (all papers were published in German only):

Germany before the Federal Elections: Fake news everywhere?! (August 2017)

The paper contains a basic definition of the term, theoretical considerations (is it a new phenomenon and why are we talking about it now and why does Germany seem less susceptible to it than the USA) and the first measuring example, the "Käßmann case".

Distorted Realities: "Fake News" in the Shadow of the USA and the German Federal Elections (October 2017)

The most important findings from the survey conducted shortly after the Federal Elections show who believes Fake News and how this is related to media use and trust in the media.

Fake News - The Method (December 2017)

The paper outlines in detail the method on the basis of which we analyzed the dissemination of false information in the "German digital public sphere" for the "Measuring Fake News" project.

Facts instead of fakes. Causers, distribution channels and effects of Fake News in the 2017 Federal Election campaign (March 2018)

The final report on the 2017 Federal Elections documents in detail in ten large case studies that Fake News come primarily from the right-wing populist and right-wing extremist spectrum. Classic media or public agencies are also involved in the distribution, often accidentally due to sloppy press and public relations work, sometimes even deliberately.

Firefighters without water? Possibilities and limits of fact-checking as a means against disinformation (July 2018)

The paper uses a detailed analysis of the effect and function of fact checking to show its possibilities and limits as a countermeasure to disinformation in social networks. In addition to practical suggestions for improvement, it sees a fundamental need for action to strengthen the media competence of citizens and authorities.

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