The number of right-wing extremist websites in Germany is rising, with a group charged with youth protection warning that the internet has become the leading platform for right-wing extremist propaganda.
Media-savyy right-wing extremists no longer use more obvious neo-Nazi symbols
Germany's right-wing extremist scene is developing a professional, media-savvy internet presence, according to Jugendschutz.de, an internet watch group for German youth.
With 1,707 neo-Nazi websites currently available on the World Wide Web, Stefan Glaser, who heads the watchdog, says right-wing groups have quickly learned how to use the internet to their advantage.
"They have websites which are quite modern, which are hip, which are interesting for young people. Videos and music are important factors, and they use all the common web 2.0 platforms: social networks and video platforms to put out their propaganda," he says.
One of the main problems, according to Glaser, is the level of sophistication. Colorful and subtle web portals mean that young people, the target audience, often don't know they are viewing a neo-Nazi site.
Shutting down far right
Glaser's group, an initiative funded by the Federal Agency for Civic Education (BPB) and active since 2000, works specifically to root out websites deemed to be targeting young people. Most commonly, Jugendschutz.de contacts the web provider, who can pull the offending material. If the internet portal is illegal, the watchdog passes the details on to the police, who can press charges.
Despite small successes, there are still more than 1,500 active, illegal websites and no sign that the right's internet presence is on the decline.
Thomas Krueger, the BPB's head, says more people need to get involved in fighting right-wing extremism online.
Young people don't always know that they are on a neo-Nazi website
"I think extremism is part of our open society and we cannot have a society without extremism, but what we need is a controversial debate to bring about more democracy on the net. We need the web community to take part in the process to get these websites shut down," he says.
In some cases internet users have managed to close down sites by bombarding them from other web portals.
Both the BPB and Jugendschutz.de have called for more public education, while they themselves offer workshops to teach young people how to identify right-wing extremist groups.
Jugendschutz.de can claim a measure of success. In 2008, 80 percent of German right-wing extremist online material that was liable under federal law was removed from within Germany and from websites abroad.
More sobering is the statistic that only 16 percent of all the material was illegal, with many hate-filled websites managing to keep just this side of the law.
Krueger says he expects right-wing internet sites to continue becoming more effective and more ubiquitous. At the same time, he expects their development to provoke more powerful counterstrategies and to contribute to a stronger discourse in Germany about how the country deals with all kinds of extremist views.
Author: Tanya Wood
Editor: Nancy Isenson