Friday, July 15, 2016

Germany: Nationwide police raids for internet hate speech & another comedian in hot water

It was a first of its kind, a highly publicized nationwide series of police raids on internet hate speech suspects in thirteen out of the sixteen German states. A necessary symbol, some reports said. Residences of some sixty suspects were searched, with the apparent focus being a private Facebook group. No report the blogster has seen elaborated on the fact that the group was private. How did it catch the eye of prosecutors?

On this occasion, the Federal Justice Minister, Mr. Maas, stated that radicalized speech (for the new German term "Verbalradikalisierung") on the internet is "often a precursor to violations on the streets". He did not give any actual examples for the claim, although there have been murder sprees in the U.S. that were announced on social media.

The action was also designed to raise awareness for responsible handling of extreme right speech on the net, said the chief of the Federal Crime Office (BKA).

That lofty statement rings a bit hollow, given that articles on and reports of hate speech have been grabbing German headlines for years. Not long ago, even the awful tabloid BILD started an anti-hate speech campaign by naming and shaming people in the paper and on its website. This action is quite unusual in a country in which average people's faces are pixelated and their names not spelled out when they make the news.

Even Germany's famous consumer testing foundation, Stiftung Warentest, chimed in in May with a "test" of sorts: it listed several internet hate speech postings with the penalties courts had handed out for them.

Nerves in Germany are seriously frayed with regard to what constitutes hate speech and what does not. On the same day as the raids, an article in ZEIT online accused national public TV broadcaster ZDF of ridiculing the fight against hate on the net.

In a three minute piece from July 8, a ZDF comedian spent just over one (1) minute on the subject with short clips of interviews and mentioning the charity Amadeu Antonio as an example of the fight against hate speech. The comedian poked fun a statement from the charity's flyer Hate Speech Against Refugees (in English) as too nebulous and too vague.

The list of frequent forms of racism on page 5 of the flyer has many examples that are obviously racist or hate speech. The single statement the comedian singled out as too nebulous was the first on the list: Contrasting "us" and "them", or "we" and "they". He proclaimed "we need more women in leadership positions" and then did a fake double take playing on "we" and "they" in this context.
A couple of the other examples listed by the charity make for an interesting read, in particular Pejorative designations like “economic migrant"....

The blogster wholeheartedly agrees that calling refugees economic migrants is pejorative and deeply xenophobic, but economic migrant has been a staple of the arguments of resolutely 'democratic and welcoming' leaders of the big mainstream conservative parties (Christian Democrat & Christian Social Union). And some Social Democrats, too.

Can you call the parties who put up the 'Refugees Welcome' shingle for a few months in 2015 xenophobic or racist? According to this flyer, probably yes.

The statement that concludes the list of examples, printed in bold in the flyer reads: Often, racist hate speech is also disguised as satire or humor, or subsequently the ex­cuse is proffered that it was only meant as a joke.

Here, the complaint filed by the charity against the maker of the ZDF show comes full circle.

Given that free speech enjoys less protection in Germany than in the US, a degree of unease about this may not be too silly.

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