Germany Needs to Address Fake News and Digital Illiteracy
If hacking, espionage, cyber-attack and identity theft are to be considered existential threats in the cyber world, then ‘fake news or digital lying' can be considered emerging threats. As the Bundestag approaches the 2017 election, protection from fake news and increasing digital literacy are the needs of the hour, especially as first generation internet users have rebooted to ‘App-generation internet user'. Public-private partnerships are key for balancing security, privacy and free enterprise.
Why should one remember 2016? Presumably, what is pertinent to remember, out of various instances, is the influence of ‘Fake News' in political affairs. After the US, Europe has become the hotspot of crucial elections. The German government has taken a serious note on the issues of ‘fake news', but it remains to be seen how Europeans are responding to global fake news debate.
After the US presidential elections, the debate around online fake news has been characterized as ‘emerging risks' to democratic values of any society. Has fake news been propagating a high risk towards the real world? Apparently, yes, after the US presidential election in her first public statement former secretary Hillary Clinton stated that ‘fake news is an epidemic to democracy that must be addressed quickly'. Essentially, the digital world entails and enables all information to reach the bottom of the pyramid without contravening the data, which it carries to the viewer.
Fake news has essentially spurted on social media platforms; in light of this the German Interior Ministry has proposed the creation of a ‘Centre of Defense Against Disinformation' to stop the larger influence of hoaxes with immediate action. Failing to address this issue could cause social networking giants like Facebook to pay hefty fines. Before making strategies to address the issue pertaining to fake news, government and industries should not overlook the issue of ‘digital illiteracy'. Digital Illiteracy leads to Digital Lying. Any person could be a victim of the vicious circle of fake news. Largely, fake news has been circulated within peer networks or from a friend to another, and it has additional impact factors than any editorials.
Indeed, billions of people every day have been engaging themselves in this digital world through computer and smartphone applications. By one estimate in 2016, 2.1 billion smartphones users were recorded, which have superficially outnumbered the use of personal computers. Germany alone has 50 million smartphone users. Similarly, there are 15 most popular social networking sites and 10 social networking apps, running to circulate digital truth as well as digital lying.
In addition, digital gap and digital illiteracy still prevail, which could cause abundant risk to the government, industries, and society. The heart of the matter ‘digital connectivity', which can be performed as an enabler to reach wider spectrum of cyberspace, but might not educate about do's and don't's. Moreover, digital literacy is subtle to stop the nuances of fake news.
Swiftly, around the world first generation internet users have rebooted to ‘App-generation internet user'. However, digital migration has been crucial in shaping the multiple ‘APP-generation internet user' base, because the present generation loves to have all the information in the ‘handy' and is nomophobic, a new word describing the intense, irrational fear of being out of mobile phone contact. The more people exposed to the Internet, they have a better understanding and usage of the same. In contrast, eventually, people get used to it and overlook basic ‘sources of information'.
Apparently, fake news has gravely been provoking in nature than real news, as the adage that ‘falsehood flies and the truth comes limping after it'. In the cyber world, if hacking, espionage, cyber-attack and identity theft are to be considered as the existential threat, there is no harm to accept ‘fake news or digital lying' as emerging threats.
Largely, a new risk is looming. The German government decision to create a ‘center of defense' is a way forward to expedite the global fake news debate. As the Bundestag approaches 2017 election, the creation of a shield to a greater good is the need of the hour. However, the government needs to put out strong laws for privacy and security, without upsetting the system of the digital economy.
Secondly, the federal government should initiate and intermediate public consultations while engaging NGOs, PR groups, and media experts to impede the menace of fake news. Basically, fake news has been circulated on methods of engine optimization to amplify their wave by linking to one another or mainstream news sources.
Not the least, public-private partnerships should be initiated with Internet industries, data mining platforms to stop digital profiling, simultaneously to inform people about how to use digital information and not becoming a prey to fake news mockery.
Jayadev Parida is a Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Fellow at the Otto Suhr Institute of Political Science, Freie University Berlin, Germany. He is a Research Assistant at the ORF, New Delhi and Doctoral Researcher in Centre for European Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.