Blog of American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, John Hopkins University
Germany has responded to influence operations carefully during the COVID-19 outbreak. In the discussions around German platform regulation, hate speech has historically occupied the forefront, not misinformation. Along with clear prohibitions against certain categories of serious antisemitism and other qualified hate speech and dehumanizing expressions, the idea that the process of political opinion formation is supposed to be free from state interference is regarded as a crucial component of Germany’s constitutional order. A country’s liberal democracy is thought to be at even greater risk from excessive domestic government influence on the negotiation of the norms of information behavior than it is from foreign influence operations.Nevertheless, the rhetoric of both politicians and the general public shows a fear that influence operations may undermine the nation’s democratic process. Former Foreign Minister Heiko Maas highlighted the existence of “players and states” in a statement he released in June 2021, stating that they “are employing dishonest tactics to meddle in democratic processes as well as election campaigns in other countries.” Similar to this, 82 percent of respondents in a Forsa study conducted for the State Media Authority North Rhine-Westphalia concur (‘totally’ or ‘somewhat’) that political misinformation endangers Germany’s democracy.