Online voting on citizens' assembly recommendations

05. June 2024

The internet, artificial intelligence and other digital innovations make it easier to spread misinformation. The Bertelsmann Foundation therefore launched a participation project on 24 January 2024, which also included a citizens' assembly on the topic.

Misinformation on the internet is a threat to democracy, as it can undermine citizens' trust in politics, public discourse and state institutions. A large majority of people in Germany also recognise this danger. The Bertelsmann Stiftung now develops recommendations for dealing with disinformation in the participatory project "Forum against Fakes" with the help of citizens and present these to politicians.

15 recommendations and 28 measures

The Citizens' Assembly has discussed and developed 15 recommendations and 28 measures to combat disinformation. The recommendations are now aimed at politics, the media, business, science and civil society, but individual responsibility also plays an important role in dealing with disinformation.

Overall, it is clear that the tension between freedom of expression and combating disinformation is difficult to resolve. The most important keys are education and media literacy, not only compulsory in schools, but also available to all groups in society.

Independent contact point for citizens and journalists

The Citizens' Assembly calls for all available means to be used to label disinformation and content created by artificial intelligence and to curb the spread of disinformation. This requires, for example, an independent contact point for citizens and journalists with experts in advisory bodies.

The platforms shall also be held accountable: Their design should encourage them to cite the sources of images and quoted facts. They should be obliged to invest 1 per cent of their annual global turnover in combating disinformation. The algorithms should ensure that content that shows signs of disinformation is not disseminated. Quality journalism should be encouraged to become involved in educational work on the effects of disinformation on democracy and society.

Online voting on recommendations

Last but not least, users can do a lot themselves. This requires awareness-raising and education about disinformation as well as a more conscious approach to posting and sharing content on social media that is potentially harmful to democracy.

From 5 June to 2 July 2024, all citizens can take part in the "Forum against Fakes" online one last time and rate the Citizens' Assembly's final recommendations for action: Which recommendation is the most popular? Click here to vote.

Disinformation is a problem for society

Manipulated information gives the impression that it is real, verifiable news. This is how false information is deliberately spread. According to a study by the Bertelsmann Foundation, 84 per cent of people in Germany say that disinformation on the internet is a major problem for our society.

With the project "Forum against Fakes - Together for a Strong Democracy", the foundation wants to actively counter the danger posed by disinformation. This is because the spread of targeted misinformation can undermine trust in politics and the media as well as the democratic opinion-forming and decision-making process.

Germany-wide participation project

The "Forum against Fakes - Together for a Strong Democracy" was launched on 24 January 2024. This is a Germany-wide participation project organised by the Bertelsmann Foundation in cooperation with the Federal Ministry of the Interior and Homeland, the Mercator Foundation and the Michael Otto Foundation for Sustainability. The project is supported by the news portal t-online and the #UseTheNews initiative.

The aim of the project is to educate and sensitise citizens about the dangers of disinformation. The recommendations for action developed in the forum are aimed at decision-makers at federal and state level, as well as other interest groups such as platform operators, the media and civil society organisations.

Online participation and citizens' assembly

In order to involve as many people as possible and achieve the best possible result, the "Forum against Fakes - Together for a strong democracy" project combines two different types of participation:

1. The entire population is called upon: anyone and everyone can get involved in a broad-based online participation process. From 24 January to 1 April 2024, everyone in Germany was invited to participate online in the question: "Fakes and manipulation: What should we do to protect our democracy?". People were able to submit their own suggestions for dealing with disinformation and vote on proposals from other participants. The response was high: around 200,000 people took part online and submitted around 1,600 suggestions on how to tackle fake news.

Citizens see fakes and manipulation as threat to democracy

The analysis of the results has shown that citizens see fakes and manipulation as a real threat to democracy. The participants identified three main areas in which they would like to see improvements: "education and awareness-raising", "media practice" and social networks. Specifically, they called for a strengthening of media skills and stricter action against fake news on the part of social media.

The participants are also making demands of the established media. For example, there should be a clear separation between news and opinions. Concerns about influence from foreign states, on the other hand, only play a subordinate role.

Citizens' formulated recommendations

2. A diverse group of 120 citizens discussed the results of the participation with each other in a citizens' assembly and worked on the most important points. The mini-public was a reflection of the population according to the criteria of age, gender, regional origin, level of education and migration background. The citizens' assembly began its work on 15 March 2024.

In addition, the citizens' assembly had the opportunity to discuss issues with experts. With this knowledge, the mini-public was able to deal with the most relevant topics in a well-founded manner. As a result, the citizens' assembly formulated concrete recommendations for action for politicians, which are summarised in a so-called citizens' report.

Second phase of online participation

A second phase of online participation in the Citizens' Assembly proposals ran from 22 April to 12 May 2024. Interested parties were able to comment on and vote on five of the assembly's preliminary recommendations. 9,620 people took advantage of this opportunity. Votes were cast 11,100 times and 1,703 comments were submitted. Four of the five recommendations were accepted with over 75 per cent approval.

A look at the results reveals that freedom of expression plays an important role for the participants. In addition, a tension between the desire for regulation or prosecution and the need for freedom of expression can be seen in the comments.  

Feedback discussed

The votes and comments were analysed in detail. From 24 - 26 May, the Citizens' Assembly "Forum against Fakes" met for the last time in Berlin to discuss the feedback from the second online participation phase. This feedback were used by the assembly participants to improve and finalise their recommendations.  

The final online participation phase started on 5 June and ends on 2 July 2024, when all citizens can vote again and identify the most important recommendations to politicians on how to deal with disinformation. 

Federal government wants to utilise project results

Finally, in September 2024, the citizens' assembly will hand over the citizens' report with policy recommendations to the Federal Ministry of the Interior and for Home Affairs (BMI) and the Bertelsmann Foundation. The citizens' report is also addressed to other ministries, parliamentary committees and politicians from the federal and state governments. The BMI uses the policy recommendations contained in the report to develop its strategy for dealing with disinformation, among other things.

Federal Minister of the Interior Nancy Faeser: "Targeted misinformation distorts and poisons the political debate. Our measures against disinformation are therefore measures to protect our democracy. It is important to me that the 'Forum against Fakes - Together for a Strong Democracy' project invites citizens to a nationwide debate on how disinformation can be dealt with and what expectations and recommendations they have of politics. We will use the recommendations, among other things, to develop a new strategy for the federal government to deal with disinformation."

"Participation is worthwhile"

Project manager Dominik Hierlemann from the Bertelsmann Foundation explains the purpose of the participation process: "When politicians develop new strategies for social challenges, we believe it is important to involve citizens. We need broad public participation on important political and social issues. That's why we initiated this project.

Participation processes in which as many people as possible can take part - with concrete ideas and proposals. Where do citizens see the greatest challenge? What is most important to them? Which proposals are most popular? Participation is worthwhile because we learn something new as people, because we engage with others, because we find out more about a topic. We all too often forget this aspect of democracy. In our case, participation is particularly worthwhile because there is great political interest in the results of this forum."

Read more: Forum against Fakes