“Hang him from the tree, once and for all,” wrote one user. “How come he’s still not locked up?” others asked.
These are just two examples of online abuse received by German lawmaker and virologist Karl Lauterbach, who posted screenshots on his Twitter account over the weekend.
“A wave of hatred rolled me online,” Lauterbach wrote. “The threat of death and humiliation is hard to bear. Time and time again, there have been calls for violence.”
Much of the abuse centers around the important role Lauterbach has taken stricter shutdown to fight the spread of the corona virus pandemic. Members of the center-left Social Democrats, junior coalition partners in government, have been vocal with projections of a possible pandemic development without strict boundaries.
‘Hostility towards scientists’
Lauterbach is not the only public figure who owns it accepting more online harassment over the past year. In Berlin alone, reported online hate speech rose 45% in the first 11 months of 2020 compared to the previous year, according to the city’s justice department.
Statistics for all of Germany for 2020 are still in compilation.
“It’s definitely not a new phenomenon that people who are in public are treated with hostility online,” Christoph Hebbeckerm, from Cybercrime Headquarters in North Rhine-Westphalia, told DW. “But we suspect there are more incidents due to the pandemic.”
And counselors and advisory services have also seen a spike in requests for help.
“At the start of the pandemic, we actually saw a decrease in the number of questions asked for advice, which we can’t really explain,” said Josephine Ballon of HateAid, a Berlin-based foundation that offers support and counseling to victims of hate online. speech. “Some time later, however, this trend reversed and we are currently reaching new weekly highs in counseling rates.”
“In the context of a pandemic, we are observing increasing hostility towards scientists and politicians,” he added.
Scientists become victims
Virologist Melanie Brinkmann, one of the scientists advising Chancellor Angela Merkel about the pandemic response, said Spiegel magazine that she was scared at home because of the online threats she received. Dan Gerald Haug, head of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, told: RND media outlet that, although he himself is not active on the internet, he has received hate and online threats over the past year.
A number of well-known scientists have spoken out against it called Querdenker, or “lateral thinkers,” who have gained traction in Germany in recent years. Its adherents believe the coronavirus is a hoax and have held protests, sometimes illegally, to protest restrictions on public life. Participants in these demonstrations included far-right extremists who turned violent when police asked them to comply with pandemic restrictions such as social distancing and wearing masks.
“We are observing an increase in hate speech in relation to criticism of the actions of the coronavirus,” said Ballon. “Approaching demonstration in Berlin, we are even seeing very serious threats against people who, among other things, oppose online conspiracy theory and hate narratives. “
And it’s not just national figures like Lauterbach who are the target.
“A doctor in Cologne who questioned reports suggesting that wearing masks had a damaging effect on the muscles of the respiratory tract received hate messages online,” said Hebbecker. “We never heard of an incident like that before the pandemic.”
Due to the restrictions on the coronavirus, more and more people are turning to the internet to get information and interact with other people.
“We assume that the increased need for counseling is due to a greater shift in social life to the internet,” said Ballon.
Hebbecker said his cybercrime unit was working on a “hypothesis” that more hate had been online during the shutdown as people spent more time on the internet.
This phenomenon is not unique to Germany. A studied by tech giant Microsoft indicates that reported hate speech will increase by 4% in 2020 in the Asia-Pacific region. In the United States, President Joe Biden’s top immunologist and chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci has received resentment online for his stance calling for stricter regulations and criticizing former President Donald Trump’s pandemic response.
And, apart from pandemics, online hate speech has been a precursor to recent attacks and terrorist acts, for example the invasion of the US Capitol on January 6.
In Germany, neo-Nazi terrorists are behind the 2019 killings in Halle and the murder of politician Walter Lübcke, also reportedly being radicalized online.
“The increasing hostility towards scientists and politicians is primarily aimed at undermining their legitimacy,” said Ballon. “In our view, however, this started in 2015 in light of the so-called refugee crisis, in which pro-refugee politicians were attacked and democratic structures were called into question.”
Partly because of the attention Lauterbach has brought to the matter, the German government is considering tightening the online hate speech law. Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht told RND on Tuesday that he realized that “anyone who contributes with facts to help us fight the pandemic better will be inundated with threats.”
“This must eventually end,” he said.
However, the government has yet to offer a time frame for the new regulations to take effect. Meanwhile, Lauterbach, for example, has indicated online hatred will not stop him from commenting on the pandemic.