Germany Moves to Investigate "Fake News" (Because of Breitbart?)

FILE - In this July 28, 2016 file photo German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a news conference in Berlin, Germany. A telephone poll of 1,003 people for ARD television, conducted Monday and Tuesday and published Thursday night, Aug. 4, 2016 found 47 percent of respondents satisfied with Merkel's work — down from 59 percent a month earlier. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, file)

So, this is just a weird story, and it’s really hard to pick a side to root for.

On the one hand, you have the German government under Angela Merkel, which has allowed with no restrictions refugees from the Arab world and created a multitude of new problems for itself and its people. On the other hand, you have Breitbart, which has become a full-blown propaganda machine for Donald Trump, as I noted yesterday.

Here’s what happened, via The Verge:

The German government is investigating a recent surge in fake news, Reuters reports, following claims that Russia is attempting to meddle in the country’s parliamentary elections later this year.

The investigation comes after police in the city of Dortmund were forced to debunk a story published on Breitbart over the weekend. The Breitbart article claimed that a “1,000-man mob” chanting “Allahu Akbar” set fire to a church on New Years Eve, but police said that no incident occurred. A local newspaper said that Breitbart distorted its original report. Breitbart, which has stood by the article, plans to launch websites in both Germany and France ahead of elections this year.

I don’t think Breitbart is to the point that it would just go full Stephen Glass on a story in order to drum up talking points or anything like that, but at the same time, I do have to wonder how this story originated. A story like this – a one thousand man mob marching and chanting – is surely a big enough thing that multiple outlets would have taken notice.

The result of the story and the blowback is that Germany is going to try to crack down on “fake news.”

German officials tell Reuters that the government has considered setting up a bureau under the press office that would be dedicated to tracking and combatting fake news. “We are dealing with a phenomenon of a dimension that we have not seen before,” Steffen Seibert, a German government spokesperson, tells Reuters. The Czech Republic created a similar “anti-fake news” unit last month, though plans for the German bureau remain unclear due to concerns over the government regulating news.

The fake news panic reaching European shores isn’t that surprising, but what is surprising is how quickly Germany wants to mobilize on it while also talking about the government not regulating it too much. “Fake news” is an excuse for American media to blame something else for its own failures in its duty to the public. What and how it can be taken on by a government remains a mystery, and a scary one at that.

In truth, it becomes another classic tale of growing government in new and terrifying ways. Government is run by people, and people have agendas. If someone’s agenda doesn’t like what someone else is writing, a quick label of “fake news” and that person is shut down. Why would we give people that power?