Leading candidates in the election campaign: "Always the same risk of experiencing violence"
Photo: Michael Sohn / AP
Right-wing extremist agitation and online hatred have hardly been an issue in the election campaign so far.
A look at Facebook, Twitter and YouTube is all it takes to see the extent of hate crime and insults in public debates.
Against the three top candidates and only on Twitter, there were more than 35,000 publicly posted posts with hateful language within a month.
This is the result of a survey by the Affected Organization Hateaid, which SPIEGEL was able to see.
The analysts collected over a million tweets for their study, in which the top candidates from the CDU, SPD, Greens, FDP, AfD and Left were mentioned between August 7th and September 7th.
They then used artificial intelligence to evaluate how often inflammatory and insulting terms were used in the tweets.
These include insults like "failure", "scum", "bitch", "son of a bitch" and other nasty insults.
Even after the Triell, the content was not only discussed on Twitter, but Annalena Baerbock (Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen), for example, was insulted as a pedophile.
According to the Hateaid survey, Armin Laschet (CDU) was mentioned the most on Twitter.
Among them were "27,476 comments with potentially offensive and hurtful language," according to the study.
With Olaf Scholz (SPD) the number of these comments is 6690, in the case of Annalena Baerbock it is 5524 within one month.
Because politicians are in public, the hurdles are particularly high until insults against them are actually judged to be punishable by the courts.
Nevertheless, about seven percent of the hateful comments against the three top candidates could be illegal, estimate the analysts at Hateaid, who also support those affected with legal expertise.
Almost all of these probably criminal tweets are still online, only one has been deleted, according to the study entitled "Hate as an occupational risk - digital violence in the election campaign".
Stricter laws against hate crime called for
"Whenever I speak out on a political issue, there is always the risk of experiencing violence," says Anna-Lena von Hodenberg, managing director of Hateaid.
As a consequence, the organization demands that the next government make hate crime its topic.
Politicians repeatedly report hostility on the Internet.
The case of Walter Lübcke shows that hate campaigns can, in the worst case, turn into serious violence outside the network.
Actually, the German state has been taking action against criminal online hate speech for some time: For four years, the Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG) has been required to oblige large social media companies to delete prohibited hate speech.
In recent years, special public prosecutor's offices have been set up and increased across Germany to take action against hate posters.
Both should have helped to prevent hateful comments and also led to judgments against individual agitators
Nevertheless, the measures are not sufficient to comprehensively suppress hate crime, warns von Hodenberg in view of the current investigation into the election campaign.
"Digital violence is definitely a danger for the federal election," she sums up.
Intimidation and distortion of debates
Von Hodenberg sees a particular danger in the fact that hate crime in particular could deter women from becoming politically active or running for political office.
Far too often, behind hate comments there is "no substantive argument, but simply sexism, misogyny and / or racism".
Your analysis of the hateful comments against the top candidates shows that the amount of hateful comments against the three top candidates is similar.
But: "The insults are sharper against Ms. Baerbock and often have a sexist component."
Another problem with the amount of hate speech is that the comments can distort the debate.
"On the internet, hatspeech campaigns are used to highlight topics that do not necessarily reflect what people actually deal with in their everyday lives."
A study by the extremism experts at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue also speaks of a “worrying extent of hate and disinformation campaigns” in the federal election campaign.
For the study published in mid-September, Facebook and the messenger app Telegram were evaluated.
In particular on Telegram, Armin Laschet, Olaf Scholz and Annalena Baerbock spread “potentially illegal content such as threats, insults, defamation, as well as homophobic and anti-Semitic agitation”.
According to the study, Baerbock was the target of conspiracy theories and misinformation that could have spread widely on Facebook much more often than the other two top candidates.
With artificial intelligence into the "right bubble"
The Hateaid analysts focused their research on hate speech and online hate speech, disinformation campaigns were not the focus of the study.
Instead, they tried to trace where the inflammatory tweets were coming from.
They were able to determine that at least some of the tweets could be assigned to a so-called “right-wing bubble”, ie a “right-wing to right-wing extremist ecosystem with 10,000 accounts” on Twitter.
These accounts were noticed more often because they distributed right-wing or extremely right-wing content.
In a comparison of the various top candidates, there were a particularly high percentage of hate comments against Janine Wissler (Die Linke) (36 percent) and Annalena Baerbock (25 percent) from this “right-wing bubble”.
In the case of Armin Laschet, it is seven percent of the hateful comments, according to the study.
"Punch in the face"
Hateaid supports those affected by hate crimes, helping them, among other things, to put charges against hate speech posters.
More than 15 politicians from federal and state politics, as well as numerous others from local politics, are currently using the organization's help.
Green politician Laura Dornheim: "Ok, you won't get me down"
Photo: Felix Speiser
One of those who turned to Hateaid about hate speech is Laura Dornheim. She wants to move into the Bundestag as a candidate for the Greens in Berlin-Lichtenberg. Dornheim reports, among other things, of hate messages in which users threaten to hit her "in the face" - written not from an anonymous account, but with a real name and profile picture. "In this election campaign in particular, the sexist and misogynous insults have increased again," says Dornheim, who has been openly committed to the Internet against sexism and for women's rights for several years.
"Because of the attacks against myself, I think twice about what to write and post on the Internet," said Dornheim.
“On the other hand, I also think to myself, 'Ok, you won't get me down,' if I read something like that.” Nevertheless, she is accompanied by the topic of digital violence on a daily basis, says Dornheim, and she has already received threats to her private address.
"I also had to explain to my five-year-old son what threats are on the Internet and that I am sad because people have written something dangerous on the Internet." Dornheim wants more efficient law enforcement so that those affected are not left alone with the problem.
What the parties want to do against hate crime
Almost all major parties are calling for further measures to combat hate crime, as a look at the election manifestos and inquiries from the parties shows.
Only the AfD, in its election manifesto on the subject, simply calls for the NetzDG to be abolished.
The other parties have very different ideas about how to act against online hate speech.
The left, the Greens, the SPD, the CDU and the FDP agree that criminal prosecution and the resources for dealing with illegal hate comments should be strengthened, but the common ground ends above all on the legal basis for the judiciary - the NetzDG.
While the SPD and CDU praise the law, which they have just renewed, it is criticized by the other parties.
Particularly detailed proposals that go beyond the law can be found in the election manifesto of the FDP and in particular among the Greens.
The FDP wants to abolish the NetzDG, but transfer individual regulations from it into other laws such as the Telemedia Act.
"We should do away with the fairy tale that the NetzDG made an effective contribution to combating hate speech online," says Wolfgang Kubicki (FDP).
The FDP wants to oblige social media platforms to have to inform those affected who wrote a criminal hate comment against them.
In this way, the victims should be able to defend themselves better.
The Greens, on the other hand, want to use a law for digital protection against violence to take action against anonymous accounts that distribute criminal content. In addition to training for the law enforcement authorities - as requested by the left - the Greens propose so-called platform councils, in which representative, civil society organizations debate rules about what content must not have a place on the Internet. In addition, the Greens are calling for comparable rules against hate crime to be imposed on porn platforms. In the past, tension videos and nude recordings were repeatedly published against the will of those affected on porn sites that host user-generated content.