Angela Merkel has said public opinion is being “manipulated” on the internet, claiming “fake news” websites and “trolls” could influence the approaching German elections.
In her first major address since announcing her intention to seek a fourth term, the German chancellor was also heckled and labelled a “disgrace” as she claimed to be “fighting illegal immigration” in Germany.
“Something has changed. As globalization has marched on, debate is taking place in a completely new media environment. Opinions aren’t formed the way they were 25 years ago,” she said, according to AFP.
“Today we have fake sites, bots, trolls – things that regenerate themselves, reinforcing opinions with certain algorithms and we have to learn to deal with them,” she added.
The chancellor linked the rise of alternative media to populist politics in the West during the speech.
“A lot of people are concerned about the stability of our social order,” she said. “Suddenly it seems that what we considered self-evident isn’t that self-evident after all.”
She reportedly claimed that democracy itself, and even the economy, were under threat.
The chancellor also insisted that “hate speech” should be censored in Germany, because “it’s not compatible with our ideals”. Debates, she said, should be carried out in what she saw as “the spirit of respect for others”.
The speech also covered the topic of migration, which saw the German leader shouted down in her own legislative chamber.
“We have passed the EU-Turkey agreement and I want to clearly state that, also looking at other areas…” she started, before a woman interrupted her, crying: “Disgrace!”
“Careful,” the Chancellor replied.
“It is your opportunity to openly express your opinions. I believe fighting illegal immigration,” she added. But the woman shouted back, “yeah, yeah”, dismissing the claim sarcastically.
Mrs. Merkel continued her speech: “Putting a stop to illegal smugglers who do vicious trade with human beings, to do something against the fact that this year 4,500 or more refugees have drowned is one of the most important requirements of political trade.”
Allies of the chancellor applauded her as she asserted: “Those who have to rely on smugglers because they can’t shape politics, they do not do their job in the sense that I envision it.”
More than a million illegal migrants walked into Germany last year. The numbers began rising sharply immediately after Mrs. Merkel promised to suspend the Dublin agreement in August, and “welcome” any migrant who could make it across Germany’s borders.