Incitement via social media © Franziska Gabbert
Hate speech has recently been omnipresent. It occupied the federal government and private individuals, it met refugee aid workers and church representatives. Dealing with it will continue to be a challenge in the coming year.
After the killing in Freiburg, the abyss opened up again. "Out with the scum," users commented on the Facebook page of the "Badische Zeitung" with regard to the Afghan refugee suspected of the crime. German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) "should be thrown out of a plane over Afghanistan," and: "The blood also sticks to station gossips like you, who welcome Islam here with all its negative concomitants."
Is the online agitation getting worse? The crimes of the New Year's Eve in Cologne were already a feast for some people. And right at the beginning of the year, there were further hailings of insults against Merkel and refugee aid workers – against refugees anyway. Anyone with a foreign-sounding name has had to live with it for some time, noted publicist Mely Kiyak recently: But the majority society is only now recognizing this hatred as a real problem.
Death threats against Archbishop Schick
In the meantime, public figures have also become victims of agitation when they express self-evident points of constitutional law. In November, for example, there were death threats against the Archbishop of Bamberg, Ludwig Schick. He had stated in an interview that of course the churches would accept a president of Muslim faith nominated by the parties and elected in the Federal Assembly.
Church representatives everywhere warn against hatred and incitement; most recently, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne called for stricter laws.
Digital attacks and calls for murder must be consistently pursued, he wrote in his column on stern.de. At the same time, he said, the media competence of Internet users is in demand – a demand that takes on new topicality in light of the debate about so-called fake news.
According to media ethicist Alexander Filipovic, however, this also includes the realization that "the ability to publicly argue about different moral rules and convictions" is not well developed in general – "not only on the part of those who are critical of a numerically strong influx of refugees".
Increasing aggressiveness in debates
Notwithstanding this, the scholar has observed an increasing aggressiveness in the debates since April 2015. "The offensively expressed, inhuman hatred makes speechless," he says. There is an urgent need for quality debates about goals and values of coexistence, "about identity and culture and the duties and limits of our responsibility for humanity in this world".
If the boundaries of dignity and value of others are no longer respected and crossed, "then you have to say clearly, all this no longer works," said the Catholic Bishop of the Ruhr, Franz-Josef Overbeck, on WDR on Thursday evening. Combined with cries of "lying press," conspiracy theories and condescending criticism of do-gooders, the hate messages pose "an enormous challenge," Filipovic also says.
How the standards have already shifted was also shown in the Freiburg case. The mainstream media called the victim "Maria L."and refrained from divulging details about her family. Such ethical guidelines are of little concern to those who publish "educational videos" online – and in some cases drag private information into the light of day.
Church in duty
At this point, the Society of Catholic Publicists in Germany (GKP) also sees the Church as having a duty to act. It can make clear "that ethical standards are important to us as Catholics and Christians," GKP chairman Joachim Frank told our site.
Current developments also showed that professional journalists remain indispensable, Frank added. The fact that today every single user can directly circulate his or her views via social media, for example, has fed the illusion that the journalistic selection and classification of news is becoming superfluous. There is a threat of a mass flood of information and opinions, the publicist warned. "Then one is swamped – and possibly drowns in this situation."