September 24, 2021

By Raquel Miguel, EU DisinfoLab Researcher

Executive summary

In the lead up to the German federal election, we compiled a list of the initiatives that were set up to counter disinformation as well as cyberthreats and foreign interference attempts. The present research provides an overview of the tools and mechanisms put in place by public and academic institutions, the media, civil society organisations, and a number of international organisations involved in countering disinformation. Although we have done our best to collect a broad sample of initiatives, we may have missed some of them, especially as Germany is a federal state with numerous local and regional institutions. We thank all those who have responded to our requests and enquiries.

This research shows how a plurality of actors have joined forces and taken actions to safeguard the election: government institutions have prioritised cybersecurity; political parties have focused on raising awareness and debunking; media, social media platforms, fact-checkers, and academic institutions have been researching and fighting the proliferation of disinformative content around the elections. Looking ahead, stakeholders suggest that efforts to address disinformation need to be maintained after the elections, in addition to efforts to improve media literacy programs.


As Germany prepares to hold a federal election on September 26 that will decide who is going to replace Angela Merkel after 16 years as Chancellor, online disinformation and other threats can potentially interfere with the democratic process.[1]

From our monitoring, we assessed that disinformation against the parties and candidates contesting the election has been circulating for months on social media, in an attempt to influence voters. Following the large cyberattack on the German Parliament in 2015,[2] and a hacking attack during a CDU congress earlier this year,[3] German MPs have been targets of a number of cyberattacks during 2021.[4] On September 6, the German federal government denounced these attempts to steal data using phishing emails that could serve as preparations for influence operations such as disinformation campaigns connected with the parliamentary election. The German government said it has “reliable information” that allowed it to attribute these “activities to cyber-actors of the Russian state and, specifically, Russia’s GRU military intelligence service” and urged Moscow to end these cyberattacks.[5] Moreover, an EUvsDisinfo report assessed that Germany is the main focus of Russian disinformation in the European Union and documented 700 cases of Russian disinformation on Germany since 2015.[6] At the end of August and just weeks before the election, a DDoS cyberattack briefly disrupted the website of the Federal Returning Officer, which is the organisation that will publish the official results for the next federal election, making the website temporarily unavailable.[7]

In view of these developments and as the election approaches, EU DisinfoLab collected a repository of the actions taken in Germany to prevent these threats from materialising into plausible risks. The present research provides an overview of the tools and mechanisms put in place by public and academic institutions, the media, civil society organisations, and a number of international organisations involved in the fight to counter disinformation. As we maintain our primary focus on disinformation, some existing initiatives to prevent electoral interference, cyberattacks, and other relevant online threats are also mentioned.

Initiatives by the government and public institutions

Federal Chancellery.[8] The primary focus of the German government has been on IT security, through the creation of “hybrid” working groups within different institutions, integrating experts from various ministries as well as intelligence services. In the Federal Chancellery,[9] there is a working group dedicated to elections that discusses possible crisis scenarios and plans how to better protect critical infrastructure for proper transmission of the election forecast and results.

Ministry of Interior. An expert group on “hybrid threats” is also meeting at the Ministry of the Interior, with employees of the Ministry of Defense and the Foreign Office.[10]

The National Cyber Defense Centre in Bonn. Since the end of last year, another working group focused on the Bundestag elections is active at the Bonn National Cyber Defense Centre,[11] which deals specifically with the exchange of information on cyber threats related to the elections.

Federal Office for Information Security (BSI). On September 8, just weeks before the elections, the government approved a new cybersecurity strategy for the next five years.[12] The BSI is the key agency in this strategy and in the IT security plan for the federal election. For the latter, the office prepared an educational campaign and a security guide for politicians (on how to better secure their social network accounts, for instance), and developed requirements for securing the transmission of provisional electoral results, as votes are cast on paper in Germany.[13] In addition, the office has set up what was labelled a “red line” to be in touch with operators of social networks such as Facebook and Google, in order to be able to react quickly to potential security threats if necessary.[14] A unit was also set up to detect automated bots and coordinated inauthentic behavior, and to inform the corresponding social media providers so that they can intervene. The BSI is also cooperating with the Federal Ministry of the Interior and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which is a domestic intelligence agency tasked with intelligence-gathering on threats concerning the democratic order (from political extremism to cyberthreats).[15]

#Wahlwissen. The government has also launched additional actions to improve the capabilities of citizens to react to hoaxes and misinformation.[16] These include a thematic website[17] that published informative content against disinformation, and Facebook infographics whose caption includes the hashtag “Wahlwissen” (meaning “electoral knowledge”), to improve citizens knowledge of the electoral process.

Facts Against Fake News. One of the main government-directed initiatives to raise awareness against disinformation comes from the Election Commission, which has launched “Facts against Fake News”, a website to debunk the main false narratives spread about the elections. The website focuses on broad narratives rather than on specific hoaxes, as fact-checkers do.

Initiatives by political parties

EU DisinfoLab has contacted the six main political parties in Germany to find out about their initiatives against disinformation. Two of them, the CDU and the Green Party have responded, confirming their concrete actions against the surge of electoral disinformation.

CDU/CSU’s fact-checking website. Merkel’s conservative party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) launched a fact-checking initiative of its own. Despite its professionalism, the website[18] can be considered a partisan initiative, as it is mainly dedicated to debunking hoaxes against the party. According to fact-checking organisation Correctiv, the CDU has set up a closed Facebook group that helps the political party to react to false news circulating on the social network.[19] A similar website called “Faktenheld” (meaning “facts hero”) was created by CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).

The Green’s Facebook group. In the past election, the Green Party set up its own “Netzfeuerwehr” (meaning “network fire brigade”),[20] a Facebook group where hundreds of volunteers share alleged disinformation about the Greens that they spotted. This initiative still exists and “becomes active when there is a need, when false reports are circulating”, a press spokesperson told EU DisinfoLab.

FDP’s taskforce. The liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) parliamentary group presented a proposal in the Parliament last April, calling on the federal government to set up a task force to jointly fight disinformation and cyberattacks.[21] Among other proposals, the group asked for closer cooperation with national institutions and advocated for the introduction of standards for digital election observation at the international level.

The SPD’s editorial team. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) counts on an editorial team to monitor disinformation on social networks and react to it. Correctiv added that “SPD Secretary General Lars Klingbeil has also set up a helpline for people in the party who are being threatened”.[22]

Initiatives by the media and fact-checkers

The fight against disinformation and the promotion of media literacy has been more actively addressed by the German media and fact-checkers.

Faktenscheck21. German press agency DPA (“Deutsche Presse-Agentur”) launched the “Faktenscheck21” project to train journalists and fact-checking teams during the electoral year.[23] The project also created a freely accessible digital learning platform for professionals and a Slack channel for a more continuous exchange among the German fact-checking community.

Correctiv & BVDA. When asked by EU DisinfoLab about its efforts, independent research and fact-checking organisation Correctiv said that the fight against disinformation linked to elections is their priority. The fact-checker has also launched a more informative initiative together with the Federal Association of German Advertising Papers (BVDA), which began to regularly include fact-checked content in the free weekly papers they distribute.[24] The initiative allows Correctiv’s debunks to reach citizens without the need for digital access or the requirement to purchase press products.

AFP & Facebook on WhatsApp. One month before the elections, press agency AFP launched a fact-checking initiative on WhatsApp in cooperation with Facebook.[25] Users can direct their queries to a telephone number where a chatbot helps to locate false information and responds to citizens with AFP fact-checks.

Initiatives by academic institutions and international think tanks

At the same time, several academic institutions are active in researching and providing solutions to the phenomenon.

Zahlen zur Wahl. For instance, the Leibniz Institute for Media Research of the Hans-Bredow-Institut, the European New School of Digital Studies, the Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society, and the NRW School of Governance launched a joint project called “Zahlen zur Wahl” (i.e. “election figures”). This is funded by, a grantmaking initiative which also hosts a website where experts publish data, graphics, and analyses about elections with the aim of making the online election campaign more transparent and less vulnerable to disinformation.

The 2021 German Elections Dashboard. Also worth mentioning are the activities of international institutions such as the Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD) at the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), which launched last May a specific project dedicated to the German elections. The 2021 German Elections Dashboard is an interactive open-source tool that provides analyses of topics and themes promoted by influential foreign and domestic messengers during the electoral campaign. The dashboard “tracks the outputs of Chinese, Iranian, Turkish, and Russian government officials and state-funded media that target German audiences on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and state media websites”,[26] and later aggregates the narratives promoted by domestic actors, such as German media outlets or political parties.

NewsGuard’s disinformation tracker. Journalism and technology organisation NewsGuard created a disinformation tracker, where a team of journalists exposes the myths surrounding the upcoming federal election and the websites that spread hoaxes.[27]

Initiatives by platforms

Some social media platforms have also made efforts to tackle disinformation around the German federal election.

Facebook. Facebook has expanded its Facebook Protect Program, a scheme for politicians, government officials, and other high-profile figures to strengthen security protocols in their accounts. The social media is also monitoring the broader threat of electoral interference.[28] Moreover, Facebook is also launching a campaign with the Federal Agency for Civic Education to promote media literacy among citizens, while partnering on Instagram with fact-checker Correctiv to reach younger users. In addition, Facebook wants to present a three-part video series on the topic of misinformation, in cooperation with the DPA.[29]

Google and YouTube. The platforms have also heightened their vigilance and created a “digital toolbox”,[30] which promotes quick access to credible and useful sources on electoral programs, candidates’ positions, and other election-related issues.[31]

TikTok. The popular video platform launched a three-fold initiative to protect its integrity in relation to the German political election: flagging election-related videos, implementing a fact-checking partnership with DPA, and enforcing its own community guidelines.[32] However, a recent investigation by Mozilla showed weaknesses in all three areas, calling the approach ineffective as fake accounts of prominent political figures were found.[33]

Media literacy at scale: a German weakness?

German politicians recently highlighted individual responsibility in combating mis- and disinformation,[34] but the question arises whether citizens are sufficiently in capacity to do protect themselves. Despite the efforts made by the media, fact-checkers and platforms to promote media literacy, some voices are raised claiming that not enough progress has been made in this field. A decade ago, lawmakers in the Bundestag’s “Enquete Commission on Internet and Digital Society” urged the country to boost educational efforts related to media literacy among the German population. However, Chief Technology correspondent at the Deutsche Welle Janosch Delcker commented in an op-ed that “their non-binding recommendations fizzled. And, unlike countries like Finland (…) Germany has not introduced similar large-scale initiatives.”[35]


  • Germany faces the challenge of securing an election against hybrid threats. In addition to the traditional challenges, there is the added difficulty of being a federal state, where initiatives can be weakened in a decentralised system. Therefore, cooperation and coordination are key to combat these threats.
  • Some experts call for a large-scale media literacy strategy in Germany, so that civil society can play a greater role in tackling disinformation and avoid contributing to its dissemination.
  • Initiatives to combat disinformation and foreign influence should not be limited to the election period, but should be designed for the longer term: combating hybrid threats is a long-distance race.

[1] “How disinformation could influence the federal election”,

[2] “Cyberattack on the Bundestag: The issue with the ‘Ü’”,

[3] “CDU reports hacker attacks on party conference”,

[4] “Federal government sharply criticises Russia”,

[5] “Federal government urges Russia to end cyberattacks”,

[6] “Russian disinformation mainly targets Germany: EU report”,

[7] “Hacker attack on the Federal Election Commissioner’s server”,

[8] “How disinformation could influence the federal election”,

[9]“How disinformation could influence the federal election”,

[10] “How Russian hackers and right-wing extremists want to manipulate the federal election”,

[11] “How Russian hackers and right-wing extremists want to manipulate the Bundestag election”,

[12] “Cybersecurity: Just before the end, a quick strategy”,

[13] “Identifying and combating disinformation”,

[14] “Federal election: BSI has set up a ‘red line’ for hybrid threats”,

[15] The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution has recently placed under observation groups that spread disinformation, such as the Querdenkers (meaning “lateral thinkers”),

[16] “Fake news about the coronavirus is spreading almost as fast as the virus itself. This is how Germany is combating it”,

[17]Dealing with disinformation”,

[18] “How we campaign. Our fact check. We clarify”,

[19] “Dirty election campaign: How disinformation poisons the Bundestag election”,

[20] “How Russian hackers and right-wing extremists want to manipulate the Bundestag election”,

[21] “Konstantin Kuhle about the FDP request: Set up task force to defend against cyberattacks and disinformation”,; The FDP’s official proposal:

[22] “Dirty election campaign: How disinformation poisons the Bundestag election”,

[23] “Faktenscheck21: dpa supports regional media in training fact check teams”,

[24] “Correctiv fact-checks in the Weekly Papers”,

[25] “Agence France-Presse and Facebook launch fact-check on WhatsApp”,

[26] “ASD Launches the 2021 German Elections Dashboard”,

[27] “Disinformation tracker for the federal election We track misinformation around the federal election – and the websites that spread it”,

[28] “Facebook promises to ramp up security for German election”,

[29] “Facebook expands fact check for the federal election“

[30] “Google – our measures around the 2021 federal election”

[31] “How misinformation could influence the federal election”,

[32] “TikTok provides in-app information on the federal election”,

[33] “Broken Promises: TikTok and the German Election”,

[34] “Federal election: Measures against disinformation and fake news”,;

“Protect the election from attacks”,

[35] “Opinion: Disinformation campaigns could derail Germany’s election”,