Nadja Kirchhof


The law on your side: With the police against hate on the net

Hate on the web is no trivial matter. It not only offends those affected, but sometimes also violates applicable law. When are postings punishable? What do the police do? Bettina Rommelfanger and Markus Schüttler from the Task Force against Hate and Incitement of the State Criminal Police Office of Baden-Württemberg explain what role hate crime plays from a criminal law perspective and how the police support those affected.

Task Force against Hate and Incitement of the State Criminal Police Office of Baden-Württemberg

Task Force against Hate and Incitement of the State Criminal Police Office of Baden-Württemberg © Landeskriminalamt Baden-Württemberg

Whether as a topic in newspapers, radio, TV and co. or when scrolling through one's own social media feeds - hate on the net seems to be increasing more and more. A perception that is confirmed according to Markus Schüttler, a member of the Task Force against Hate and Incitement of the State Criminal Police Office of Baden-Württemberg: "In 2021, the total number of cases of hate crime reported to us reaches a peak for the time being with 883 (746 in 2020)." The clearance rate is around 60 percent.

Recorded by such police statistics are hate comments that fulfill a criminal offense and are reported to the police. Typical are, for example, insult, threat, defamation, or incitement of the people. "But hate comments that are not punishable by law can also be hurtful," adds Markus Schüttler.

"Whoever is attacked is not to blame".

No matter how careful we are online, we can all be affected by media violence. Perpetrators often choose their victims at random. One thing is important to Markus Schüttler: "Those who are attacked are not to blame! And that is precisely why we should be active together against hate. There are several strategies for this. One is to delete or report comments. One can engage in counter-speech or report the senders.

"Which strategy is promising depends very much on the context and on which people are involved. There is no golden rule here," says Markus Schüttler. In any case, it is essential to support those affected. Because: "Anyone who does not support victims of hate comments is condoning their suffering. Those who don't report agitators don't stop them," Markus Schüttler appeals. 

And: Crimes on the Internet can lead to crimes in real life. The murder of Walter Lübcke and the attack in Hanau are just two examples where words turned into deeds.

Checklist for reporting a crime

Victims are often reluctant to file a complaint with the police. "They won't do anything anyway," is a common prejudice. Markus Schüttler puts an end to this. A report sets several things in motion: First, witnesses and/or injured parties are questioned. Data is secured, and once a perpetrator has been identified, criminal proceedings follow, such as questioning the accused or a search. Depending on the jurisdiction, the case is handled by the police or the criminal investigation department. If necessary, charges are filed with the public prosecutor's office and the perpetrator is sentenced by the court. 

To facilitate the process of filing criminal charges, Markus Schüttler has the following checklist for those affected:

  • Save the name of the platform and URL (screenshot with date/time).
  • Save nickname/user name
  • Save profile picture of the hater/perpetrator
  • Save post

Baden-Württemberg shows how it's done: task force against hate and incitement to hatred 

In May 2022, Jan Böhmermann criticized in "ZDF Magazin Royale" what he saw as the sluggish or lack of investigations into hate comments in Germany. He cites the work of the police in Baden-Württemberg as a positive example. Here, they have been dealing with hate on the Internet for some time: A task force against hate and incitement was established at the end of 2021. The office is at the LKA.  

Bettina Rommelfanger heads the task force against hate and incitement, which consists of a total of three permanent members as well as numerous partners from the police, culture, education, and the social department. "In the first step, the task force's office surveyed all partners to determine the current status of existing measures relating to hate crime. The next step is to bundle these measures and offers, find synergies and, if necessary, sound out new/missing measures and get them off the ground," says Bettina Rommelfanger.

The focus of the task force is to strengthen the media competence of citizens. The aim is also to ensure that victims receive the same help at every police station. And how is this to be achieved? For example, with action days, internal police sensitization or the founding of the Initiative Toleranz im Netz // Aktiv gegen Hass und Hetze, including its own website. The task force is also building on existing measures, such as the "Zivilcourage im Netz" prevention program developed in 2020. Here, students learn more about how to deal with hate speech.

What else is happening

The task force shows how the executive branch is responding to the increasing significance of hate on the net. There are also developments at the legislative level: An important milestone is the "Law to Combat Right-Wing Extremism and Hate Crime," which came into force in March 2021. Bettina Rommelfanger's colleagues at the LKA welcome the law. This is because it gives the police the opportunity to take action against behaviors that were not previously punishable by law.

Also in 2021, stricter penalties were introduced, which, for example, provide better protection for local politicians and personnel in emergency services, take into account anti-Semitic motives and require social networks to report criminal content. 

The first major steps in the right direction have been taken. Many more will follow. And they all contribute to the fact that everyone can be #there on the Internet - without fear of exclusion, hate or digital violence.

#TAKEPART in fighting for a network without hate

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