Hate and incitement on the net threaten freedom of expression and democracy. The non-profit organization HateAid is a partner of the initiative "Against Hate on the Net". It advises those affected by hate speech and campaigns for consistent prosecution and human rights on the net. Founder Anna-Lena von Hodenberg explains in an interview how HateAid goes about making the net a safe place for all.
HateAid was founded in 2018 by Anna-Lena von Hodenberg, Campact e.V., Fearless Democracy e.V. and a lawyer. The non-profit organization is committed to combating digital violence on a social and political level. It supports victims from initial counselling to the financing of legal costs.
To hold offenders accountable online, HateAid carries out extensive educational work. Proceedings for insults, threats or defamation are too often dropped because the prosecution is supposedly not in the public interest. This is a problem: those affected then usually only have the option of taking civil action against the hate. But digital violence is not a private matter: "If I insult you on the garden fence, you and I know about it - and maybe another person who happens to pass us. But if I do the same thing on the internet, potentially thousands of people will read it, including your children or your employer," Anna-Lena von Hodenberg emphasizes.
The net is not a lawless space - but law enforcement is difficult
Every day, people are attacked and publicly pilloried on social media. This happens specially to people who stand up for our democracy, such as local politicians, journalists or activists. Discrimination is also commonplace: hatred against Jews, LGBTQIA+, women and other marginalized groups permeates the comment columns. Many comments are illegal, but few perpetrators are held accountable. HateAid is committed to changing this. In view of the German government's planned law against digital violence, HateAid is campaigning for the right to information to be extended so that perpetrators can be identified more easily and those affected receive justice. Even specialized public prosecutors are only able to identify the perpetrators in a small number of cases. This must change. That is why HateAid works closely with the police and public prosecutors, proposes legislation, and raises awareness about digital violence in lectures and training sessions.
In the view of HateAid's founder, harsher punishments are not necessary: "The net is not a lawless space. Whether it's insults, threats, coercion, or incitement of the people - there are already numerous laws that also apply in the digital space. We need police forces, public prosecutors and courts that have the competence and means to enforce them."
Why HateAid wants to abolish itself
Many users are still not aware that hate speech and violent acts are also punishable on Twitter, Facebook and the like. They too rarely experience that spreading hate has consequences. That is why HateAid is working to make the net a safe place. But every single person can also contribute.
Anna-Lena von Hodenberg is convinced of this: "What we need is a digitally enlightened population that knows its rights vis-à-vis the big platforms and stands up for them. Who understands it as part of digital moral courage to stand up for people who are attacked online. Because when people are insulted online, threatened, and deliberately pushed out of public discourse, that is a danger to democracy. That concerns all of us, the whole of society."
The goal of HateAid is only achieved when the organization is superfluous, the founder explains: "When hate on the net does not increase but decreases. When the police take those affected seriously and public prosecutors do not drop cases for lack of public interest. If the platforms cooperate with the authorities. If perpetrators are held accountable more often. If the algorithms of the platforms no longer favor hate comments. And if we all develop an awareness that we can shape the digital space ourselves and demand change. Then we will have achieved our goal.