Strengthening the Digital Public Sphere

The digital public sphere creates an entirely new information and media system that democratizes communication processes, but at the same time produces new challenges. These include, for example, disinformation campaigns and the amplification of inflammatory, populist views, especially on digital platforms and in social networks. Traditional journalistic gatekeepers are confronted with the new power of these digital platforms at a time when workable business models for journalism in the digital space are scarce.

Technology companies, media as well as political and societal actors are aware of this upheaval taking place in the digital public sphere. However, the way this profound change is handled in Germany is piecemeal. There is a lack of systematic action to strengthen the resilience of internet users, legislators and media professionals in the face of disinformation and online hate speech. A holistic policy agenda is also lacking: Sticking to singular measures, voluntary self-regulation and a political silo mentality would mean continuing to fail to recognize that disinformation and online hate speech are symptoms of our public’s digital structural change.

Which measures and approaches are appropriate to address not only the symptoms but also the structural challenges of our digital public and its underlying business models? In the project cluster “Strengthening the Digital Public Sphere”, we deal with this question.

Alexander Sängerlaub works in the field of “resilience”. He is currently developing a training concept in cooperation with the Federal Foreign Office in order to strengthen the competencies of ministries and authorities in dealing with disinformation. The project plan includes further topics, such as measuring society’s digital information and news competence and how journalism deals with populism. In doing so, Alexander Sängerlaub will build on the findings he gathered as head of the projects “Measuring Fake News” and “Disinformation in the Digital Public Sphere”.

The project cluster also includes the “policy” section, which is headed by Dr. Julian Jaursch. Currently, legislators in many countries are looking for solutions touching upon content moderation, youth protection online, media regulation and competition law. There are deletion requirements in Germany, while data protection law in the EU also offers points of contact. All these areas are interrelated when it comes to strengthening the digital public sphere. So how can existing rules for platforms be improved? How can laws developed for the offline age be adapted? Are new legislative and regulatory requirements necessary and, if so, what shape should they take? Analyzing these questions aims to establish a better understanding of regulatory interventions and to identify concrete courses for action.

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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Project Director “Strengthening the Digital Public Sphere | Resilience”
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Project Director “Strengthening the Digital Public Sphere | Policy”
+49 (0)30 81 45 03 78 93
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