The Troll of the Month – German Tabloid Bild

Published: 19 February 2018

Country: Germany

GTTO_Bild_Troll_of_the_MonthThe Bild newspaper was chosen as “The Troll of the Month” within the MDI project Get the Trolls Out (GTTO). The aim of GTTO Troll of the Month is to expose racist and anti-religious haters and to show the positive outcomes in the fight against intolerance in Europe.

The German tabloid Bild was pushed to change a deceptive and xenophobic headline, after social media outburst accused them of fearmongering. The Bild not only fuelled racism through sensationalistic headline saying “Four out of five refugees do not pass the German language test”, but it also misled the readers. According to the German Governmental Agency for Migration and Refugees, about 76 percent of the refugees who took the language test passed it. As listed in the full text of the article, the 4 out of 5 figure mentioned by Build did not refer to all refugees who took the test, but rather only to those who were illiterate.

Get the Trolls Out states that their original clickbait headline might have marginally increased Bild’s online subscription margins, but it also presented a distorted representation of facts, thus contributing to fuel division and xenophobia among society.

After a backlash on social media, the headline was changed into “Refugees have problems with language tests.” While it might still remain inaccurate, given the governmental statistics, it doesn’t pretend to be factual, and resembles more to the headline of an opinion piece rather than hard news.

But when the headline was edited, some of the damage was already done. As the Bild watchdog Bildblog reported, newspapers and politicians (including the far-right AfD), had already picked up on the original headline and used it to confirm and spread prejudice, playing on the discourse of the impossibility to get “them” to become more like “us”.

On Twitter, Julian Reichelt, editor in chief for Bild digital, offered a lukewarm apology on Twitter, admitting that the headline was badly formulated, but also stating that it doesn’t automatically make it a lie.

While it is true that the headline was “badly formulated”, to say the least, data can be misused and convey deceptive information when taken out of contest and when its sample is very circumscribed. Journalists and editors have a duty to be careful when selecting their words, and whenever they don’t do so, a strong civil society and regulatory bodies should be able to call them out, as it successfully happened with Bild.

Get the Trolls Out regularly monitors the new and traditional media in order to spot and counter any discrimination, religious hate speech and incidents against Muslims, Jewish and Christian communities in Europe.