Fake News – Democracy and Disinformation

Fake News – Democracy and Disinformation

February 27, 2020

How to combat political disinformation on the internet

"Stricter rules protect users from political disinformation but can restrict freedom of expression."
Portrait of Stefan Schaible
Senior Partner, Global Managing Partner
Frankfurt Office, Central Europe

The rise of Facebook & Co. is challenging politics: It has never been easier to spread "fake news" on a large scale. In a joint study, Roland Berger and the Internet Economy Foundation (IE.F) therefore call for a rethink: If you want to effectively combat "fake news," you have to readjust the balance between freedom of opinion and user safety.

"Fake news" has become an integral part of the political debate. New reports about manipulation attempts on social media appear almost weekly. This poses a serious threat to democracy. Almost three quarters of 18 to 29-year-old Europeans now consume news on the Internet every day. Increasingly, they are confronted with disinformation.

"Fake news" spreads via digital platforms rapidly and unhindered.
"Fake news" spreads via digital platforms rapidly and unhindered.

Record margins for online platforms, disadvantages for society

The revolutionary business model of the major US platforms is partly to blame for this development. According to the authors of the study, the increase in consumption of news via social media is providing Facebook and Co. with record-breaking margins of up to 40 percent. At the same time, it has created a communication climate in which "fake news" thrives particularly well. Not least because the platforms' filter algorithms are aimed at "engagement" and no longer select content according to generally credible journalistic criteria.

Tougher regulation is inevitable

There is therefore no way around stricter rules. The question is who should set them? Private companies like Facebook? Or governments, as is already the case in China and Russia? In the authors' view, neither of these options is really desirable.

Five proposals for the fight against political disinformation

Unlike hate comments, "fake news" falls into a grey area that is not relevant under criminal law. They cannot be forbidden without severely restricting freedom of opinion. Every society must therefore decide for itself where it draws the line. But the main goal of regulation should be a different one: Strengthen the sovereignty of the user and ensure the greatest possible transparency on online platforms.

This basic idea guides the study's five recommendations:

  1. Clear criteria are needed for dealing with "fake news." At what point should they be deleted, marked or the authors banned from the respective platform?
  2. The debate must not be confined to legal frameworks. Online manipulation is so effective because many people fall for it far too easily. An education offensive based on the Scandinavian model could help to combat such rife manipulation.
  3. Political advertising must be regulated uniformly. Regulations on election advertising in the analogue world should be used as the model for new legislation.
  4. Users must be given more control over the settings of their news feed or filter algorithm of their social media accounts. This is the only way to prevent them from involuntarily slipping into a filter bubble.
  5. Users should not be obliged to use their real names; the right to anonymity on the net is a good worth protecting, especially with regard to communication in autocratic systems.

IE.F press release

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Fake News – Democracy and Disinformation


Without regulation the rapid spread of unfiltered fake news has the potential to seriously endanger democracy.

Published February 2020. Available in
Further reading
Portrait of Klaus Fuest
Dusseldorf Office, Central Europe
+49 211 4389-2231
Portrait of Stefan Schaible
Senior Partner, Global Managing Partner
Frankfurt Office, Central Europe