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Freedom of Expression at Risk as German Government Meets with Facebook and Google

Government Denies Censorship, But FDP Calls for Transparency in Social Media Meeting

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Freedom of Expression at Risk as German Government Meets with Facebook and Google

NEW YORK ( — According to the German Bild Zeitung, one of the major controversies of the COVID-19 pandemic was the way social media platforms indiscriminately removed posts from citizens, artists, and scientists because they were deemed “incorrect” or “fake news.” This raised the question of whether the German government had a hand in restricting freedom of expression. It has now come to light that there was a secret meeting between the German government and American companies, during which they discussed combating misinformation related to the pandemic. During the first summer of the pandemic, when the number of cases decreased and dissatisfaction with the measures taken by the government grew, the government held a secret meeting with major social media platforms, Facebook (including Instagram) and Google (including YouTube). The purpose of this meeting was to discuss ways to address the spread of misinformation related to the pandemic. The meetings between government representatives and social media companies were not uncommon during the pandemic. The Ministry of Health met several times with representatives of tech companies to discuss the dissemination of government information. However, the secret summit on June 2, 2020, had a different focus. A government spokesman confirmed to BILD that the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) and the Federal Press Office invited top lobbyists from Google and Facebook for a confidential meeting. The topic of the summit was “The corona pandemic and the spread of misinformation, false information, and disinformation that can be observed in this context.”

Angela Merkel

Kubicki Demands Transparency in Government’s Social Media Censorship Efforts

The goal of the discussion was to clarify “how the associated challenge can be met in principle.” In other words, the government discussed with the operators of social networks, which tens of millions of Germans use every day, how to take action against the dissemination of information that they considered false and dangerous. The top-level group met in the Ministry of the Interior, with employees from several ministries (interior, health, family, foreign affairs), the lobbyists of US corporations, and an important confidant of then-Chancellor Angela Merkel (68, CDU): government spokesman Steffen Seibert (62). It is unclear what exactly the government demanded from the social networks in dealing with so-called “false information” and whether Google and Facebook complied with the demands. The parties involved have not provided any information on the matter. FDP´s Wolfgang Kubicki (70), whose government request disclosed the process, is concerned about this lack of transparency. He states that “Article 5 of our Basic Law states: ‘There is no censorship.’ Citizens must expect that the previous federal government under Angela Merkel did not violate this principle,” Kubicki told BILD. He calls for clarification and expects the Federal Ministry of Health and the Chancellery to create transparency to avoid wrong conclusions about possible influence on social media platforms. He also raises the question of what thoughts should have been exchanged with internet services in the summer of 2020.”

But FDP Calls for Transparency in Social Media Meeting

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