Social networks

According to Internet World Stats, Germany’s Internet penetration is currently 88.4 percent and, with a total of 71 million users, it ranks the highest in the EU. The 28m active social media accounts mean a penetration of 35 percent of the population. Like in other European states, data exploitation is used to create individual user profiles to improve services and, particularly, to develop refined advertising strategies.

The online advertising market reached a volume of over 6 billion users in 2016, with pre-tax revenues reaching a total amount of €2.6bn in 2016 (€2.7bn in 2015). A range of advertising models, such as e-mail advertising, banner advertising, and online/mobile display and video advertising compete with each other, the latter with annual growth rates of about 25 to 30 percent.

Online/mobile display advertising is constantly increasing with net revenues of €1.3bn in 2014. In the advertising cake, online advertising represents 8.8 percent and is ranked among the top four (after TV, print and advertising papers) according to the Verband privater Rundfunk und Telemedien (Association of Private Broadcasting and Tele-Media - VPRT).

Facebook is the most used social network, with approximately 22 million users, followed by YouTube and WhatsApp (21 million). Twitter is used by 5.6 million people, as the We are Social study indicates. Those who use social media with a personal profile spend an average of 63 minutes daily in their online community. Additionally, smartphones are the preferred devices of 81 percent of Internet users to enter the web.

In Germany the Internet still plays a lesser role in the information repertoires of news searchers, after TV, radio and print. However, search engines, news apps and social media are the main gateways to enter content for German users, according to the data of the Reuters Digital News Survey in 2016. This importance of social media, particularly for younger users, is a key factor for publishers as well as public-service and commercial broadcasters. They strive to make their content available in all platforms, thus building cooperation with social networks. On the one hand, it is inevitable to be present in these evolving markets. On the other hand, it may also raise legal problems, particularly for public-service media, as most of the offerings are regulated by US law. Second, television is still the main source of news consumption, followed by regional newspaper. On average, the Internet is among the least trusted sources of news, only preceded by the yellow press. This is so even among younger audiences. Paradoxically, newspapers are the most trusted but least read by this age group. TV news score in the second rank when it comes to trusted sources.

Facebook’s popularity causes another problem that is linked to public opinion and may also add to the low levels of trust in social media. The alarming amount of non-deleted hate speech and fake news on Facebook points to the fact that Facebook is not at all a neutral platform. Instead, it is rather a new player in setting the agenda, which is often influenced by right wing and post-fact ideologies. In fact, journalists demand for transparency of algorithms, because they are convinced of the network’s major role in forming public opinion. The German government hence forces Facebook to delete content and both came to the agreement, that the investigative research network Correctiv would check Facebook pages for these specific aberrations.

The microblogging service Twitter is established in Germany as an important tool for politicians and journalists to influence public opinion. The politicians with a Twitter account differ among the political parties. 92 percent of the Green Party (Die Grünen) parliamentarians have an account, followed by 70 percent of the politicians of the Left Party (Die Linke), 60 percent of Social Democratic Party (SPD), and 46 percent of the conservative Christian Democratic Party (CDU). Politicians in Germany use the microblogging service to imply a sense of modernity and to stage politics in a user-friendly and easily accessible manner. Certainly, the public has, with Twitter, a new tool to react and comment on politicians. It is however questioned if microblogging can in fact serve deliberation, as Twitter is rather a platform for professional journalists than for the usual user. Professional communicators (ie Politicians and Journalists) are able to enhance their profile and their role as gatekeepers in the online world. However, researchers at the University of Koblenz-Landau point out that Twitter is a gatekeeper itself, and as such may influence public opinion.