Newsroom / News / Media / Info Magazine LGP NEWS 02/2022 / Tactics against fake news and hate speech

Tactics against fake news and hate speech

Tactics against fake news and hate speech

Free and unlimited access to knowledge and information has become easier than ever. Information spreads rapidly through the internet and its social networks. This brings along the risk that messages are increasingly shared and reproduced without any kind of verification. 

The phenomenon of “fake news” has shaped the socio-political debate around internet communication at least since the 2016 US presidential election campaign. Basically, it is the circulation of false or misinformation primarily online, intended to spread targeted disinformation and influence public opinion. It is presented as true, fact-based reporting without highlighting “untrue content”. In recent years, the term has turned into a political battle cry and has slipped into common use. However, previous definitions are neither uniform nor free from contradiction. There is yet no generally valid or legal definition. According to the EU Commission’s definition, fake news is “false, inaccurate or misleading information that is invented, presented and disseminated for profit or to deliberately cause public harm.” Meanwhile, the term is also often used to discredit facts and legitimate political statements. 

Fake News and Social Media 

The spread of fake news is especially difficult to prevent on social media, but dissemination false information to influence social opinion on certain topics is not an internet invention. Tear-jerking headlines or articles spreading lies and propaganda for political purposes have existed since the birth of print media. However, modern information and communication technologies have increased their circulation in recent years and are now difficult to control. 

Algorithms and so-called “social bots” are commonly used to spread fake news. Often, fake news is shared anonymously via social media, i.e. without a recognisable author, or via “fake profiles”, which makes it difficult for laypeople to verify the posts. Social media can consequently be seen as a driver of fake news distribution, as it already serves many people as their primary source of (political) information. It is therefore not surprising that calls for concrete control measures are becoming louder. 

There have been some initial reactions already: in spring 2020, for example, Twitter posted a fact check against a tweet by former US President Trump, who spread unverifiable claims about the postal vote. Facebook cooperates with more than 50 independent international fact-checking organisations – such as the German Press Agency (dpa), where experts check news and images for accuracy and correct them if necessary. If news items are classified as untrue on the basis of predefined criteria, they are marked with a corresponding notice on Facebook and are displayed less frequently. In the context of the coronavirus pandemic and associated widespread conspiracy theories, Youtube revised its community guidelines, which now allow the platform to delete videos with false content. 

In 2020, the EU Commission published revised guidelines to combat the spread of fake news via social media. Operators are asked to fight disinformation campaigns actively with fact-based data. They should also report on the numbers, content and reach of misleading postings and fake profiles at monthly intervals. 

Regulation by the state and media literacy 

Here it should be noted that in an open and democratic society, controlling the fundamental rights of press freedom and freedom of information in the arena of social media through bans should be the last resort. Even though case law in this area is constantly developing, education in particular is key in order to better recognise and anticipate attempts at manipulation through targeted disinformation. Strengthening media literacy and the ability to independently check sources for accuracy should already take place in school and ought to be an integral part of the curriculum. In addition, it is essential to promote active education and the correction of disinformation. An example of a first approach here at the EU level is the “East StratCom Task Force”. 

Closely related to the problem of the spread of fake news is the increase of so-called “hate speech” on the internet. The increase of hate on the internet in the form of insults, defamation, exposure and even threats of violence and murder has led to the introduction of the “Hate on the Net” law package (HiNBG) in Austria, which has been in force since 1 January 2021. The law aims to close the gap between freedom of expression and unlawful statements. The HiNBG is intended to make it easier for those affected to take more efficient action against hate on the internet. As part of this, law enforcement has been made easier, additional criminal offences have been created and existing offences have been expanded. In addition to the central provisions of civil law, such as privacy laws and relevant criminal offences, the HiNBG has above all led to procedural simplification for those affected. 

Through the newly created mandate procedure, there is now a shorter and more favourable procedure for all affected persons without the need for a lawyer and by means of a simple form. The legal consequences range from declaratory relief to injunctive relief and removal, publication of a judgement and, in the case of fault, also damages, the amount of which was increased as part of the legislative package. 


AUTHOR:

Mag. Daniel Söllner, Associate at LGP

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