Germans have opened 33,463 criminal complaints of fake news in 2017 — an increase of 250 percent over the previous year, police said on Thursday.
Some 41,157 complaints were brought in the first three months of the year, and a further 2,285 complaints were pending at the end of January, the Berlin state police said.
In the first nine months of last year, Germany came under fire for spreading potentially inaccurate stories and information without verifying the facts, sparking concern among conservative politicians that the country had become a dumping ground for stories from elsewhere.
“It’s not just the guilty who suffer when the authority media is openly lied to,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a recent speech. “That is dangerous also for others.”
The current record-breaking total for fake news complaints may not mean much until more data comes in.
“The new figures refer to cases that were filed by citizens,” said Anton Herwig, a spokesman for the state police in Berlin. “The number of complaints, how many are not filed yet, is not yet known, but I assume it will be more than 40,000.”
Around half of the complaints have come from 23 eastern states, the police said.
Germany, which traditionally tries to keep the political controversies at a minimum in its newspapers and other media, has faced increasing pressure to reveal the truth more in recent years.
Government officials have been reluctant to give information, mostly arguing that Germans are prone to exaggerate their beliefs in the name of their country. But the latest flurry of fake news cases — often featuring President Donald Trump — has brought focus on the need for greater transparency about content.
“Now there’s even more need for us to participate in media legislation,” Herwig said.
This article was written by Susan Cornwell, a reporter for The Washington Post.