A 'father of the internet' warned the fight against fake news could lead to China-style censorship

Vint CerfBusiness Insider/Sam SheadGoogle VP Vint Cerf (left).

BERLIN — Google veteran Vint Cerf warned Germany against suppressing the internet in a talk on Wednesday as the country looks to tackle the issue of fake news being published online.

Cerf, sometimes referred to as one of the “fathers of the internet” for the work he did on developing TCP/IP technology, argued that people should “use their brains” to spot stories that may not be genuine.

“My belief is we should rely on critical thinking to deal with things like hate speech and fake news because you [can] use your ability to reject things if the origins are suspect,” said Cerf in Berlin, Germany.

“That’s where I come at on this; I want people to use their heads to deal with information. By the way, that’s how we have worked in the past for the most part. People are confronted with bad information all the time on television, radio, magazines, newspapers.”

Cerf’s comments, made in front of an audience of entrepreneurs in the Factory startup hub, are timely given that Germany’s government announced plans earlier this month to fine internet companies up to €50 million (£44 million) for failing to remove fake news.

“Some people would like to find a way to suppress what they consider to be misinformation, fake news, and hate speech,” said Cerf, likely referring to Germany’s government. “The problem that I believe we encounter as soon as we start doing that is who decides and on what grounds to suppress content.

“When you begin asking for mechanisms to automate that, you start down a path which is pretty scary. It’s the same path that the Chinese have already gone down. Is that really where you want this country to go? That’s not where I want this country to go. It’s not where I want America to go either.”

Earlier this month, Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas announced that he wants to punish internet companies that publish fake news with a new law. “This (draft law) sets out binding standards for the way operators of social networks deal with complaints and obliges them to delete criminal content,” Maas said in a statement.

Maas said failing to comply could result in a fine of up to €5 million (£4 million) on the individual deemed responsible for the company in Germany and €50 million (£44 million) against the companies themselves.

Facebook and Twitter could also be punished

Google isn’t the only internet company that stands to be affected by the law, with Twitter and Facebook also in the firing line.

Last week, Stephen Deadman, Facebook’s global deputy chief privacy officer, said in Berlin that Facebook’s giant’s scale makes it hard to monitor and filter everything that gets published and that it had hundreds of staff working on the issue.

“”When it comes to managing content, we have almost 1.9 billion people on the platform,” Deadman said at the G20 Consumer Summit last Wednesday. “It’s a pretty unique situation to be in. Managing content is one of our biggest priorities. I don’t want to give any impression that it’s something that doesn’t matter to us: it’s absolutely a top priority.”

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