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At least since the presidential election campaign between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in 2015 and 2016 Fake news Part of the public debate. They are reported on, criticized and warned of their danger - yet they spread and find their way into everyday life. But what are Fake news actually and to what extent do they pose a threat to democracy and society? After all, they are “just” news.

The Selfie by Anas Modamani with Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2015 or the "Lisa" case in 2016 are just two examples of how Fake news Influence politics. The Selfie including the allegation that Modamani was a terrorist, served as a symbol against the Chancellor's refugee policy and led to agitation against him (read here [1]). The Lisa case not only caused diplomatic tensions between Russia and Germany, but also led to demonstrations (read here [2]). Both messages started on the net and were there especially in the Social media spreading rapidly.

Manipulative character of Fake news

This is downright typical of Fake news, among which, according to Duden, “in the media and on the Internet, especially in the Social media, False reports spread with manipulative intent "[3] are to be understood. The manipulative character of false reports is to be particularly emphasized here. Fake news usually pursues a specific goal and tries to influence political, social or economic developments Fake news other false reports, such as satire or accidental false reports, which are usually corrected [4]. Likewise are Fake news from conspiracy theories, even if the boundaries between the two are blurred. So the latter are not always the same Fake news and Fake news are not always necessarily conspiracy theories [5].

Differentiation according to the objective of the Fake news

Are there Fake news not equal Fake news. The internet activist, blogger and media scholar Ethan Zuckerman makes a difference Fake news according to their objective:

1.) Relevance - here a topic is given more attention than necessary.

2.) Propaganda - here true, but misleading and false information is used linguistically to strengthen one side and weaken another (usually the opponent) and

3.) Disinformation - this is false information [6]. This disinformation can occur through the manipulation of images or videos, quotations taken out of context or simply fictitious reports without any truthfulness.

Bat people on the moon - Fake news has been around for a long time

In the course of newspaper and magazine printing, false reports could spread more and more and particularly sensational reports recorded high sales. An example of this is the report that bat people lived on the moon, which appeared in the New York Sun in 1835 and gave a scientific appearance [7]. Radio and television enabled an even wider audience to be reached, and with the development of the Internet, more spaces for both information and disinformation emerged. Means Social media and Messenger services new ways of dissemination were opened up.

What's new?

Reports, including the information conveyed through them, are necessary in order to find their way around society and politics and to develop a political opinion or even interest and to help shape democracy. This collection and exchange of information is traditionally done in this country through the mass media. By processing information, they make it possible to recognize or get across political, social and economic connections. However, it is essential that the truthfulness of the information is checked beforehand.

Thanks to the Internet, it is now possible to obtain vast amounts of information, to share it or to put it online yourself - but you do not have to check the truth behind it. The opportunity to Fake news Bumping into the net and forming an opinion based on it is therefore considerably higher than with news spread through "classic media". But not only in social media Fake news to find. Some parties and politicians [8] also use it Fake news to defame political opponents, to legitimize political decisions and to obtain and strengthen approval within the population.

influence of Fake news on society and politics

Fake news lead to the fact that an opinion is formed on the basis of false information, on the basis of which an action, such as participation in elections or demonstrations, joining a party or becoming involved in a citizens' initiative, takes place. These have a direct impact on society and politics. This makes it more difficult to publicly and freely discuss and solve social and political problems and conflicts - but this is essential for a democracy.

Fake news as a danger to democracy

Fake news therefore pose a threat to democracy on two levels. On the one hand, they undermine the trust of the citizens in the parties, politicians and the media - but this is necessary in a representative democracy based on trust. This can lead to a turning away of the citizens from the political system of democracy, to the often sought disenchantment with politics. On the other hand, they mean that based on targeted misinformation, an idea of ​​social coexistence is developed that does not promise reality, which endangers social cohesion. Fake news are therefore much more than "just" news - they endanger democracy.

[1] Cf. Zuckerman, Ethan: Fake news is a red herring, in: Deutsche Welle, 25.01.2017. URL: http://www.dw.com/en/fake-news-is-a-red-herring/a-37269377 [accessed on: 11.06.2018]

[2] See Hendricks, Vincent F./Vestergaard, Mads: Post factual. The new reality in times of bullshit, fake news and conspiracy theories, Munich 2018, p. 32.

[3] Cf. Muller, Angela: Refugee defamed as a terrorist, in: Deutsche Welle, March 28, 2016. URL: http://www.dw.com/de/fl%C3%BCchtling-als-terrorist-verleumdet/a-19145712 [accessed on: 11.06.2018]; See Reinbold, Fabian: Merkel selfie with consequences, Hello Facebook, this man is not a terrorist, in: Spiegel Online, January 19, 2017. URL: http://www.spiegel.de/netzwelt/web/angela-merkel-ein-selfie-mit-haben-hallo-facebook-dieser-mann-ist-kein-terrorist-a-1130400.html [viewed on : 06/11/2018]

[4] See Bidder, Benjamin / Langer, Annette / Reimann, Anna / Siemens, Ansgar: Alleged rape of a 13-year-old Russian maneuver, in: Spiegel Online, January 26, 2016. URL: http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/justiz/angebliche-vergewaltigung-in-berlin-russisches-manoever-a-1074024.html [accessed on: 11.06.2018]; Elias, Fallah / Knipp, Kersten: Fake News. Media incitement against refugees online, in: Deutsche Welle, 05.03.2017. URL: http://www.dw.com/de/mediale-hetze-gegen-fl%C3%BCchtlinge-im-netz/a-37784375 [viewed on: 11.06.2018]

[5] https://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/Fake_News [viewed on: 13.06.2018]

[6] See Sängerlaub / Alexander / Meier, Miriam / Rühl, Wolf-Dieter: Facts instead of fakes. Causes, distribution channels and effects of fake news in the 2017 federal election campaign, Berlin 2018, p. 11.

[7] Cf. Butter, Michael: Nothing is what it seems. On conspiracy theories, Berlin 2018, p. 13.

[8] Editor's note: Language shapes our reality - this is why the Lower Saxony State Center for Political Education (LpB) uses gender-sensitive language. When we write about people, we want to make it clear that we mean everyone. More about it here.