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Nicolas Hanisch

Hate is not an opinion

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Hate on the Internet is often justified by the right to freedom of expression. Yet hate is not an opinion and often even constitutes a criminal offense. The Lower Saxony police are drawing attention to this with a new social media campaign and showing how you can defend yourself against hate crime.

Woman with smartphone

#HassistkeineMeinung © Landeskriminalamt Niedersachsen.

Hate on the Internet is on the rise and threatens our free and democratic life. It is often confused with freedom of expression and thus defended. "You just have to grow a thick skin" or "Hate existed even before social media" are the arguments that are often used to justify or downplay hateful statements online. Hatespeech is by no means a trivial offense.

Hate on the Internet can have legal consequences

Online hatespeech is not about expressing one's own opinion. It means that boundaries are crossed and the freedom of the individual is put at risk. Of course, there is freedom of opinion in Germany, but it is conditioned by the Basic Law, which protects the fundamental rights of the individual, and also by criminal law. Often, this transgression of boundaries also constitutes a concrete criminal offense.These include incitement to hatred, insult, defamation, slander, coercion, threats or even public incitement to commit criminal acts. 

The target is always certain groups of people or people who are assigned to a certain group because of their origin, sexuality or even profession. Hate is used strategically to intimidate and push people back. Since the beginning of the corona pandemic, for example, it has not been uncommon for politicians to be deliberately insulted or threatened online and for people to publicly call for criminal acts. 

Of course, hateful speech existed before the invention of social media. But on the one hand, hate did normally not take place as publicly as in online comment columns. On the other hand, the Internet allows hate messages not only to spread quickly, but also to multiply just as rapidly and be supplemented by further hate. In social media, therefore, a different emotional dynamic is created, which also leads to or initiates acts of violence in the real world. 

Are we at the mercy of online hate?

We are not powerless in the face of this negative trend. Hate should not be left unchallenged. It is important that every individual takes action and stands up for peaceful and democratic coexistence in the real and digital world. There are various ways to do this. One of the most important is to report and denounce posts that may have criminal relevance.

In order to make people more aware of hate on the Internet and empower them to actively deal with it, the Lower Saxony State Criminal Police Office and the Osnabrück Police Department are launching a new social media campaign against hate crime.

In recent years, both institutions have already designed various prevention campaigns and offered help not only to send a signal against hate on the Internet, but also to actively combat it. For example, visitors to the website of the "Zivile Helden" project (civil heros)  can test online how civilly courageous they are online. A "Central Office for Police Combating Hate Crime on the Internet" was set up at the Lower Saxony LKA in order to be able to professionally fulfill the central office function for the state of Lower Saxony in the wake of the increased challenges posed by politically motivated crime. This includes, in particular, the targeted prosecution of hate crime on social networks.
As part of the new social media campaign, various posts on the topic of hate crime will be published on the existing accounts of the Lower Saxony Police during a campaign week - all with the hashtag #HassistkeineMeinung. Furthermore, interested followers will have the opportunity to actively participate and get answers to their questions about hate on the Internet.

The action week starts on 25.04.2022 - be excited and follow everything on the social media channels of the Lower Saxony Police:

Twitter: @PolizeiNI_lka
Facebook: @LKANiedersachsen
Instagram: @lkaniedersachsen

The projects and communication campaign of the Lower Saxony Police are available in German.

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