In a speech to parliament given in late November, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has cautioned that public opinion is being manipulated by fake news being shared over social media.
"Something has changed -- as globalisation has marched on, debate is taking place in a completely new media environment. Opinions aren't formed the way they were 25 years ago," Merkel said. She then added that, "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."
Merkel, who had just announced that she will be running for her fourth term as Chancellor, appears concerned that her upcoming election run may be affected by the spread of misinformation, just like happened with the US election. It's a concern that has been shared by politicians and journalists the world over.
Merkel said that the challenge for democrats was to "reach and inspire people" and that they "must confront this phenomenon and if necessary, regulate it."
As it turns out, she is not limiting this proposed regulation to the political sphere. Merkel said that she supports any initiatives by her government to crack down on the spread of "hate speech" on all social media platforms.
She also warned about the growth of "populism and political extremes" in "western democracies".
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who initially defended his site from accusations that it is spreading misinformation, has recanted on his earlier position and admitted that the social media giant has a problem in regard to spreading fake news.
Zuckerberg said that it is a complex problem "both technically and philosophically" and that the company is now working on several projects to combat the spread of misinformation. That would include a better set up in detecting false stories as well as making it easier for Facebook users to report fake news articles.
On a Facebook post using his own personal profile Zuckerberg wrote: "The bottom line is: we take misinformation seriously. Our goal is to connect people with the stories they find most meaningful, and we know people want accurate information. We've been working on this problem for a long time and we take this responsibility seriously. We've made significant progress, but there is more work to be done."
Well, let us hope that Facebook is able to curb this problem. Opinion is important, and free speech is a right, but that does not include parading false information as fact to mislead people.