This is according to German-language newspaper Bild, which reported that at the height of COVID-19 pandemic in the summer of 2020, the government of former Chancellor Angela Merkel met with representatives from Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, and Google, which also controls YouTube. (Related: FBI director tells WEF the future of national security is in partnership between tech companies and government.)
This first confidential meeting, held with officials from the Federal Ministry of the Interior and the Federal Press and Information Agency on June 2, 2020, discussed "the coronavirus pandemic and the spread of misinformation, false information and disinformation that can be observed in this context."
Members of several other government ministries, including the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Family Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, were also present in the meeting.
"In plain language, this means that the government discussed with the operators of social media networks, which tens of millions of Germans use every day, how to take action against the dissemination of information that they considered false and dangerous," wrote Filipp Piatov of Bild.
Piatov added that it is still unclear what the government promised the social media networks in exchange for clamping down on so-called misinformation. A government spokesperson contacted by Bild admitted that the meetings happened, but claimed that no resolutions were passed as a result of those meetings.
The current government of Germany, which took power following Merkel's resignation in late 2021, uncovered the confidential meetings through a series of disclosure requests. Now, this government is demanding that the former issue a "clarification" about what was agreed upon in the meetings.
Without this clarification, the current government could be led to believe that Merkel's government may have violated the German constitution by aiding or calling for the suppression of speech online.
Current Vice President of the Bundestag Wolfgang Kubicki of the Free Democratic Party, a member of the current government, warned the former government that the Basic Law, Germany's constitution, forbids the suppression of speech.
"Article 5 of our Basic Law [constitution] states: 'There is no censorship,'" said Kubicki. "The citizens must expect that the previous federal government under Angela Merkel did not violate this principle."
"Of course, we cannot rule out the possibility that there was a possible influence on Twitter [and other social media companies], not only in the U.S.A., but also in this country," he added. The question, he noted, is which speech the former German government was willing to surrender to the tech giants during the pandemic.
"I expect the Federal Ministry of Health and the Chancellery to create the necessary transparency so that wrong conclusions about possible influence can be avoided," he said.
Learn more about the tech industry's latest actions at BigTech.news.
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