Online civil courage is something that concerns all of us. In cooperation with the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, Deutsche Telekom is working for a democratic civil society that is free of right-wing extremism, racism and anti-Semitism.
Ever heard of "deplatforming"? It's a form of activism that is practiced by social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram when they delete accounts of hate preachers and trolls. For Stefan Lauer, from the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, deplatforming is one of many strategies available for combating online hate speech. As he notes, "hate campaigns are often launched via high-reach ultra-right-wing accounts. Taking away their reach can be an effective way of slowing the spread of hate speech. In recent months, leading platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have been stepping up their efforts against hate speech. This is significant, because such companies have a responsibility to act!"
Countering right-wing extremism, racism and anti-Semitism
When his account was deleted, for example, a leader of the right-wing extremist group "Identitäre Bewegung" (a German group within the Identitarian movement), was forced to turn to smaller, lesser known platforms. His reach dropped by a full 90 percent as a result. Lauer is convinced that "deplatforming works." He is an editor with Belltower.News, a news platform operated by the Amadeu Antonio Foundation. The Foundation, which was established in 1998, has the aim – in its own words – "of reinforcing a democratic civil society that promotes pluralism and human rights while opposing right-wing extremism, racism and anti-Semitism." All of its projects and activities are oriented to this goal. In its offline efforts, for example, the Foundation funds local initiatives working for pluralism and against racism and anti-Semitism. Online, it supports the efforts of people who stand up against right-wing extremism, racism, anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories. It also offers education and conducts awareness campaigns. In addition, it cooperates with various social networks, including Facebook, Google and Twitter.
Civil courage online – counseling and support for victims
"We are always interested in victims' own perspectives. How does hate speech affect victims? And, most importantly, how can we as a society support and assist persons targeted by racism and anti-Semitism?" Lauer explains. He adds, "action is needed especially urgently whenever people are being attacked, humiliated and disparaged, i.e. when they are suffering abuse online. What really helps, in addition to criminal prosecution, is to show solidarity with victims – and that is something that we can all easily do online."
Working in cooperation with Deutsche Telekom, the Amadeu Antonio Foundation promotes online civil courage, encourages people to speak up, and holds relevant events and workshops. The Foundation and the company interact on a range of levels, in the interest of eliminating online hate speech.
Defending human dignity online
"Deutsche Telekom is Germany's largest and most important telecommunications company. As part of its social responsibility, it takes a firm, clear stand against hate speech and prejudice," notes Lauer in welcoming the cooperation. That stand is important, Lauer adds, explaining that "haters and ultra-right-wing trolls are a minority that is small and yet very loud. They come across as opinion leaders in social media and online comments. In chat groups – or even in highly public online areas – they band together for the purpose of hijacking discussions and disseminating their hostile ideologies. People acting by themselves make no headway against their power, which can seem downright overwhelming."
Opposing all forms of discrimination and anti-democratic tendencies
The Foundation's key aims include opposing both anti-Semitism and racism. "In Germany, hostility toward Israel, and toward Muslims, are widespread problems that, sad to say, are still not being taken seriously enough. These are areas in which constructive counterspeech is especially needed – also for the reason that disparagement and discrimination aimed at these groups are common throughout the entire society, and not only among right-wing extremists," Lauer explains. The Amadeu Antonio Foundation focuses especially strongly on right-wing extremism because it sees such extremism as the source of the greatest current threats. "The latest edition of the German Federal Ministry of the Interior's "Annual Report on the Protection of the Constitution" ("Verfassungsschutzbericht") shows that the right-wing extremist scene commits the largest numbers of violent crimes, and German government studies find that some 75 percent of all online hate speech originates on the right side of the political spectrum."
The Amadeu Antonio Foundation works to uphold basic human rights – and to promote a culture of democratic debate in Germany, because such a culture helps to counter all forms of disparagement, discrimination and anti-democratic trends, from any and all political or social directions. "We want a society in which all people are treated equally, all have the same rights and obligations, and all treat each other with respect and democratic awareness."
Who outrages humans must count on head wind
For more than 20 years, the Amadeu Antonio Foundation has been drawing attention to grievances, providing information, encouraging, advising and engaging with democratic civil society. Not everyone likes that. The headwind is noticeable and sometimes quite stormy. When asked how the Foundation deals with it, Stefan Lauer answers: "We see it as proof of our successful work that it outrages people who do not support the equality of all people in Germany. The verbal attacks from right-wing extremists are usually unobjective and fact-free, quickly take on a personal dimension and, in projection, accuse us of exactly what we are active against: Restriction of civil liberties when we speak of consideration and protection of victims, extreme attitudes when we stand up for democratic values. There is even a technical term for this: perpetrator-victim-reversion. But people who have internalized democratic values quickly recognize this - and they are in the majority.
That is why it is so important, to find partners for such efforts, and the Foundation engages in various types of cooperation. In cooperation with Civic.net , for example, it has produced the brochure "33 Social Media-Tipps für die Zivilgesellschaft" ("33 Social Media Tips for Civil Society"), which presents useful strategies for responding to hate speech.
A poster that summarizes the brochure's content (in German) is available here for download.