The truth does not help at all against the AfD. The soberly investigated facts have not yet gone viral. It's time to rethink.

Three people are sitting in armchairs and talking, the fourth armchair is empty and is a little to the side.

The truth does not help anything against the AfD, it is time to rethink it Illustration: Katja Gendikova

I must make a small warning: now I am going to demand and suggest some things that break with the classic (self)image of journalists. For good reason. What the German media landscape has been doing so far does not seem to be working. And what “we” do as a civilian population somehow evaporates. If we want to change something, we have to do something different. And we still have the opportunity to do it in 2024. Who knows if this window will not close soon.

Those are dramatic words, I know. But these are also dramatic times. According to polls, the far-right AfD party would currently receive around a fifth of all votes nationwide. In the eastern German states, even one in three. But the AfD is not a normal democratic competitor.

In most federal states, the party is controlled by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution and in three of them it is even considered far-right. And at least since the revelations of the Correctiv investigation, it has become clear: this party is really discussing overthrowing the rule of law, deporting millions of people, in short, ending democracy in this country and introducing a white ethnostate. Their sometimes contradictory attempts at relativization should no longer appease us. The AfD's plans sound extremely dramatic, even unbelievable.

Banning the AfD alone is not enough

But it is not about the objectives and dangers of this party. We can debate this to death, conduct even more studies, conduct analyses, until we “take power”, as AfD honorary president Alexander Gauland once described it. This has been done and is being done sufficiently. Nor should it be a matter of a democratic democracy having to slowly show its ability to defend itself, using the means provided for by the Basic Law, such as banning the AfD. It is no secret: I am committed to having the Federal Constitutional Court address this issue.

But even if this party is successfully banned and probably necessary, the extremist ideas that make it possible and that it has already successfully spread will not disappear. And this would come too late for the three regional elections in 2024, especially in the eastern German states, where this party is strongest. No, how can we, as journalists, scientists and illustrators in general, reach people with data that is still available to contain the problem? What can we do as civil society? How can each of us make our voices heard?

Don't explain constant lies

I tried something radical. I was wondering how I can make the data (verifications) go viral. How can I avoid making the same mistakes over and over again: not constantly repeating myths and reinforcing them without realizing it; not always being so “fair” and acting as if you can take constant liars at their word and also explain what they really mean; classify and embed their statements, euphemisms and lies. How can I break the framework and make it a topic of discussion and analysis, so as not to have the discussions that populists and propagators of fake news want to have?

How can I consciously use emotions with facts that not only greatly help with social media reach, but also support highly emotional readers? An emotional lie is more attractive than a boring truth, yes. But an emotional truth is even better. There is no point in working scientifically and meticulously if no one notices.

While we try to be credible here, fascists are once again winning elections with lies. And even if they listen to us, many people don't believe us, because fascists have been spreading lies about us for a long time.

Our integrity becomes a weapon for the enemies of democracy

It can't go on like this. Contrary to determined criticism from the right that our journalism is not “neutral”, “critical” or not “balanced” enough, too “activist”, too “optimistic”, a sober, science-based vision goes as far as contrary. conclusion. I also perceive that most journalists have extreme integrity. The ideals of journalism are generally highly regarded.

And while this is commendable and admirable, the enemies of democracy now know very well how to exploit it to their advantage. How they can use the noble claims of the media as a weapon against them. How they can stage controversies, how they can force reporting, how they can make their terms and issues of struggle the most important point of debate.

From hordes of trolls in comment columns that are not moderated or not moderated enough, to Discord servers where battle terms and hashtags are coordinated, and a radical right-wing media network, partly funded by millionaires, that exploits to the maximum and unscrupulous narratives, framing and fake news, right up to the AfD, which deliberately provokes, crosses borders and abuses our democratic institutions exclusively to produce propaganda, and otherwise rejects any constructive democratic work: all this essentially “forces “to our media system to address the issues, narratives and demands of these right-wing extremists to employ ideologues.

They know that we will always give them space to express their version. They know their border crossings will generate clicks and circulation. They know that we cannot help but try to refute their numerous errors and lies with arguments. Because we are democrats, we are fair, we want to stick to the truth and the facts, and we want to show where they are wrong and where they tell lies. We don't want to exaggerate, we want to be serious and objective. And that's why we're losing to them.

It doesn't matter what we do. it does not work

I know what I'm talking about. With my blog “Volksverpetzer” I have been promoting facts for years. I've been fact-checking since 2015, I want us to have discourse based on facts and science. But every year things look bleaker. We discuss what is true and what is not. This not only paralyzes any democratic process of opinion formation. Those who categorically question basic facts and scientific results try to impose their unrealistic worldview through violence and pressure. They try to silence us through intimidation and threats, but also by constantly indoctrinating their followers with more lies to see us as enemies.

Not only so that our education is ineffective. I've been fact-checking for years, providing thousands of sources, arguments and expert assessments. Objective and calm articles not only fade ineffectively on social networks, where algorithms are not interested in them. Those who have already been indoctrinated only read the headlines and then attack without any discussion of the facts. Many journalists and fact-checkers know this: one wonders why he does it.

No matter what we do, it doesn't seem to work. More and more politicians are realizing that integrity or fidelity to the facts does not matter if tribalism and populist demands can be exploited to achieve success. More and more people are getting vaccinated against serious journalism, against fact-checking, against arguments. The AfD is becoming increasingly popular. Of course, other factors can also influence this: the numerous crises and internal unrest in the traffic light coalition. But the fact that people seriously believe that a fascist party is an alternative (not that there isn't a center-right opposition party for those looking for something like that) speaks to the enormous misinformation among the population. The propaganda seems to be working.

We as media professionals cannot continue as we have been. We can no longer chase fake news, we can no longer repeat it, even if we want to contradict it, we can no longer invite fascists to talk shows and then be surprised that the entire enlightenment has achieved so little. Not only our experience speaks of this, but science also demonstrates it. One scientist I spoke to was no longer researching what type of fact-checking works best: he was researching why almost no one implements the findings. Each of us is being asked to speak up, take to the streets, share fact checks and write to our parliamentarians. We have to put more pressure on politics and the slow media.

We discuss what is true and what is not. This paralyzes the process of democratic opinion formation.

I demand that we publicize the truth more, without constantly reacting to the false truths of the enemies of democracy. I appeal to the majority of media professionals not to always make the same mistakes and to learn new things: not to always rely on sensational errors and often simply lie. Image-Let the headlines float by, break with ingrained thought structures. Of course, this is not just a task for media professionals, it is a task for society as a whole.

In the upcoming elections in Thuringia, Brandenburg and Saxony, it is more important than ever that proper journalism and facts dominate the discourse. That will not make the AfD disappear, but the truth alone will weaken it. We have to learn extremely quickly. Otherwise, we may not have the opportunity to do this anymore.