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Germany

German integration minister takes on fake news at Islam conference

At a Berlin conference to promote intercultural dialogue, Germany's integration minister discussed the absurd and slanderous things written about her online. She urged young people to lead the fight against hate speech.

Speaking at this weekend's Young Islam Conference, which opened in the German capital on Friday, the government's integration minister Aydan Özoguz gave an astonishing and at times humorous account of the hate mail and fake news to which she's been subjected.

Özoguz told the conference participants, a specially selected group of Muslims and non-Muslims under the age of 25, that the internet and social media were driving anti-immigrant and even racist sentiment in Germany. To illustrate her point she read out messages she herself received on her Facebook page.

"You've secretly decided that we're a nation of immigration," Özoguz said, citing one message. "There's no tolerance and future to be expected with Islamists like you," read another.

"I'd love a job with that much power," Özoguz joked. Another post accused her of creating "spaces free of law and order" with "drug dealing, no police and 98 percent foreigners with Sharia (Islamic law) - congratulations on such stupid policies."

"I wanted to respond that I'd have to be pretty stupid to support policies like that," said the 49-year-old Özoguz, who was born in Hamburg and has been a member of the Bundestag since 2009. "But even at my age you learn not to feed the trolls."

She added that she had gotten hate messages even for innocuous posts wishing users a happy Christmas. She said she supported the government's policies of cracking down on hate speech on social media.

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Fake news has the capability to influence political reality

The Young Islam Conference is an annual event that brings together 40 young people together to further understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims. The year's theme is "how to repair dialogue." Özoguz said that that the basis for any genuine exchanges were facts and that fake news represented a growing danger.

The integration minister added that she found the sort of things which could be found on the internet and that some people believed "remarkable." To illustrate her point, Özoguz cited some of the fake news stories about herself.

One fake news article, she said, featured the headline "Özoguz calls for all women in Germany to wear burqas."

Still more pernicious, she added, was fake news that took real events and willfully misinterpreted them. For example, one piece on the internet contended that she had proposed that refugees should get to elect Bundestag members - when in reality what Özoguz had said was that foreigners living legally in Germany should be allowed to vote in local community elections.

Özoguz called upon her young audience to use their greater fluency in the latest technology and communication media to lead the fight against fake news and hate speech.

"I don't know whether my generation will be able to deal with those things sensibly," she said.

The Young Islam Conference runs until Sunday in the German capital.

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