ESSEN, Germany, Dec 6 (Reuters) - After a U.S. presidential election and Brexit campaign that were tarnished by lies, vicious political attacks and deceptive online news stories, Germany is promising to double down on facts, values and seriousness.
At a congress of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives on Tuesday, speaker after speaker talked about the importance of respect and moderation in politics, with some criticising social media platforms Facebook and Twitter for facilitating the spread of false news.
“The truth remains the truth, and lies remain lies,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told 1,000 delegates of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), gathered in a vast convention centre in the western city of Essen. “I don’t want to live in a world in which algorithms determine political views.”
Volker Bouffier, premier of the state of Hesse, told the audience that Germany must safeguard its “culture of respect”.
“That is what differentiates us from the troublemakers, the extremists and those that think you can explain the world in 140 characters,” he said, in an apparent dig at U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, who has continued to send provocative tweets since his victory last month.
In Germany, where politicians rarely engage in personal attacks, Trump’s campaign with its steady stream of unsubstantiated claims and vicious attacks on his opponent Hillary Clinton was watched with horror.
Berlin was also unsettled by misleading claims made by Brexit campaigners, who promised voters that hundreds of million of pounds per week would be freed up for the National Health Service if Britons voted to leave the EU.
The German government has been a leading critic of platforms like Facebook, with Merkel confronting the company’s founder Mark Zuckerberg at the United Nations in New York last year and pressing him to do more to crack down on racist posts.
Supporters of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and the anti-Muslim Pegida movement have taken to chanting “Luegenpresse”, or lying press, at rallies, a term used by the Nazis to discredit mainstream media.
Breitbart News, a U.S. site that was run by Trump’s campaign manager Stephen Bannon and has been a platform for white nationalists and right-wing conspiracy theories, has said it plans to expand into Europe ahead of elections in France and Germany next year.
“The Internet is not a lawless place,” Merkel said in her speech at the conference on Tuesday. (Additional reporting by Paul Carrel; Editing by Hugh Lawson)