"We know where your child goes to school". Threats of this kind reach local politicians online, in letters, but also in direct confrontation with citizens. After her election as mayor, Johanna, the protagonist of the current Digital Crime podcast, also experienced hostility - on the street as well as online.
After many years of volunteer activities, Johanna wants to do more, make a difference. She runs for mayor - and wins. Her career starts during a politically challenging situation. Shortly thereafter, accusations such as embezzlement of funds, obstruction of important decisions and insults determine her everyday life. People change sides of the street when they encounter Johanna. "Being called 'the old one crank' and being permanently exposed to derogatory remarks: "That's part of everyday life, unfortunately", Johanna says. In the new episode of the podcast "Digital Crime," she vividly describes her experiences.
Johanna is not an individual case. 57 percent of all mayors have been insulted, threatened or physically assaulted during their work. This study result was presented in April 2021 by the Körber Foundation, which surveyed over 1,600 public officials. Martin Meister, Program Manager Engagement at the Foundation, explains in the podcast, "One third is 'classic' hate speech, anonymous, somehow coming from the internet. The other third are senders who admit to their perpetration with clear names and address someone, by e-mail or also quite classically by letter." The remaining third, he said, are people who personally go where the politician is and insult or threaten him or her.
Hate in politics is omnipresent
Unlike at the federal level, hostility and hatred in local politics often have very real consequences. What can I do if someone scratches my car? How do I protect my home and family? What can I legally do about it and what do I have to endure? Local politicians can get help with questions like these from "Stark im Amt" (German title) an initiative of the Körber Foundation together with Deutscher Städtetag, Deutscher Landkreistag und Deutscher Städte- und Gemeindebund (all German associations). Find out in the podcast how exactly the initiative works and why insults poison our democracy.
It is important to know how to deal with negative and untrue content that is repeatedly picked up in the media and the digital world, emphasizes Christian Scherg in the podcast. He is the managing director of REVOLVERMÄNNER, whose focus is on reputation management and crisis communication and who also advises local politicians. He justifies the hostility in the case of Johanna by the rapid rise of the "citizen from next door" to one of "those up there". In the podcast, we explore his advice for Johanna and other politicians.
Digital Crime - Real stories from the digital world
Become curious? Then listen in to the current podcast "Elected, Hated - Hostilities in Local Politics" (available in German language), the last episode of our series "Digital Crime - When Words Become Weapons". In each episode, we looked at the topic of "hate on the Internet" from a different perspective - exciting, honest, informative! You can listen to all episodes of the season here.
And if you'd like to get more information of the topic hate on the Internet, we recommend our special "#TAKEPART – No hate speech" - take a deep dive into the world of hate speech, algorithms and digital civil courage.