Who had bigger crowds Obama or Hitler

When fake news is successful : The astonishing parallels between Hitler's time and today

The mood before the Brexit vote, Russian attempts to influence the US election campaign, horror tales about the “refugee chancellor” Angela Merkel. There is a lot going on in social media, several parties in the Bundestag are now relying on their own "newsrooms" to counter fake news with facts - it is about the interpretation sovereignty on the internet and an early warning system for fake news.

“A rational opinion-forming process is impossible without shared factual information. In a post-factual democracy, citizens can no longer objectively assess the achievements and mistakes of politics. The easier it is for the populists to get through with their misinformation and undermine the democratic discourse, ”emphasized the parliamentary manager of the SPD parliamentary group in an article for the“ Tagesspiegel ”.

In the meantime even the Duden uses the term “fake news”. "In the media and on the Internet, especially on social media, false reports spread with manipulative intent," is the explanation. Where today Russians or Chinese, but also US President Donald Trump, try to make politics with news, news was already a weapon in the analogue age.

News agencies in particular spread fake news

The historian Heidi Tworek has just published a book on the early information wars based on ten years of research. These were mainly led by Germany. (The title: "News from Germany: The Competition to Control World Communications, 1900-1945"). "There is a certain parallel between our time and the time before the world war," she says. At that time, many newspapers were under economic pressure, cut correspondents and had to get cheap news. What Russian trolls are today, who use platforms like Facebook for disinformation campaigns, were primarily concerned with news agencies back then.

Tworek, who teaches at the University of British Columbia in Canada, emphasizes: "There have been information wars before." The foreign news agency Transozean, founded in World War I and later controlled by the German Ministry of Propaganda, inundated newspapers worldwide with its practically free services from China to South America. "Germany wanted to become a global power," said Tworek. If you look at today's patterns and compare them with earlier, there are parallels as a breeding ground for fake news: polarization, economic imbalances, dissatisfaction. Today, all of this is reinforced by algorithms that automatically feed users individual messages on topics that interest them - such as purchase offers, for example when they have just been looking for a new bike or cupboard.

Fact checks by the media and unmasked stories of lies, on the other hand, hardly reach these users - they move in partially sealed off bubbles. The Brexit debate is an impressive example of the dead ends that can lead to. According to the news site "Buzzfeed", the eight most successful false reports in Germany in 2018 had more Facebook interactions than almost all articles on the largest news sites put together - at the very front, false news about Angela Merkel and refugees. These included texts such as: "The state pays Harem 7500 euros a month: Syrians now live with 2 wives and 8 children in Germany" or a report about the Green politician Claudia Roth, who allegedly demands an alcohol ban in Germany during Ramadan.

The influence of state-controlled news agencies is increasing

The goals behind it, often about weakening Western democracies, may not always be clear. There should also be plenty of influence again in the European election campaign. That is still the biggest difference from before, back then the sender and the intentions were more clearly identifiable. Above all, Germany wanted to underpin its claim to great power worldwide.

"If we are concerned today about whether Facebook or Google are already monopolists when it comes to the provision of information, it has to be noted that by the first half of the 20th century the news agencies developed an even stronger position in the news landscape in some respects." , emphasized Tworek recently in an article for the magazine "Internationale Politik". "Just as it is today, news was viewed not just as a delivery of information, but as a faster, more efficient and comparatively cheap way to strengthen a country's foreign policy, economic, cultural and military power."

Today the channels are more diverse - in addition to fake news on the Internet, the share of state-controlled news agencies is also increasing again - with consequences for opinion-forming, as can currently be observed, for example, with the Venezuela crisis and the role of ruler Nicolás Maduro.

In 2018, the independent German Press Agency largely discontinued its Spanish service with over 70 correspondents and employees and is no longer present in Venezuela because the economic situation in the region had become too difficult. The Russian platform RT or China's state agency Xinhua, on the other hand, are now trying to influence opinion in their (state) favor with cheap or free services in Spanish, even in the “backyard of the USA”. Venezuela, the most oil-rich country in the world, does not want to lose Maduro by overthrowing Maduro after investing billions and thereby lose influence in the region.

Tworek believes that many states and Silicon Valley have ignored history for too long - and had to watch how network platforms have gradually become battlegrounds for asymmetrical information warfare, especially with a view to the rise of populist movements. She advises you to always “take a close look at the networks behind the news”.

Alleged plan of attack by Hitler on Argentina

These days, a very special episode is celebrating its 80th anniversary in this context. Even then, fantasy counted more than facts. In Argentina, too, Adolf Hitler was trusted to do anything at the time. To this day, the “historian” Abel Basti (his most important work: “Hitler in Argentina”) is convinced that the Führer and Eva Braun fled to Argentina by submarine and lived there for a long time. He cites dozens of inconsistencies and alleged contemporary witnesses.

In the first week of April 1939, the citizens of Buenos Aires huddled in front of the newspaper display cases. Did Hitler want to land in distant Patagonia after the "Anschluss" of Austria and the smashing of Czechoslovakia? What seems somewhat absurd, led to quite a panic at La Plata.

The reason was a document leaked to several media, according to which the German embassy had informed the colonial policy office of the NSDAP in Munich about how several provinces in Patagonia could be militarily secured and annexed - without much resistance.

Were the tens of thousands of Germans living on La Plata a fifth column? “The language of the document is so clear that any comment seems superfluous. It emerges from him that the Third Reich viewed Patagonia as a no man's land, which as a result can be counted among the next goals of Prussian imperialism, ”wrote the Argentinian daily newspaper founded by Swiss immigrants, which fought bitterly against the Nazis. A caricature showed Hitler as an insatiable tiger who wanders across the globe: "I need living space."

20,000 people celebrated the Anschluss of Austria in Buenos Aires

But you were caught up in a fake, but politically it worked in a heated climate. Heinrich Juerges is considered responsible, who led a campaign of revenge against the NSDAP because he was expelled from the party for "moral and moral misconduct" and then emigrated to South America. There he joined the "Black Front" a group of Nazi dissidents. But the British secret service is also said to have fueled the "Patagonia Affair".

The German embassy denied the authenticity, the German La Plata newspaper subsidized by Berlin railed against "pseudo-Germans" who incite against the Reich and would spin the fairy tale of a Nazi infiltration. "At the time, Germany was seen as increasingly scary in Latin America," emphasizes Professor Holger M. Meding from the University of Cologne. "A change occurred at the latest when up to 20,000 people celebrated the annexation of Austria in 1938 under the banner of" One people, one empire, one leader "in Luna Park in Buenos Aires."

In the end, the Patagonia affair led to the ban on the NSDAP regional group, and the German schools that were brought into line at La Plata in 1933, such as the Goethe School, were henceforth subjected to stricter controls. Nonetheless, the many years of “information work”, which was continued through the Transozean until 1945, also had certain successes: The government avoided too harsh measures against the Germans in the country, even though the arrival of tens of thousands of Jewish emigrants noticeably increased tensions. Argentina was the last country in the world to declare war on the Third Reich on March 27, 1945, following massive US pressure. But without any combat use.

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