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Germany's Green Party chief quits Twitter

Fabian von der Mark
January 7, 2019

Robert Habeck says he is deleting his Twitter account in reaction to a massive data breach affecting leading German politicians and journalists. The platform, he argued, is full of malice and hatred.

Berlin: Robert Habeck
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. von Jutrczenka

Green politician Robert Habeck announced via Twitter on Monday that after "a sleepless night" he was deleting his account, as the platform had started to "rub off" on him. The move comes in reaction to criticism of one of his posts and the hacking of his private information via his social media accounts. Habeck went on to explain his decision in an article entitled "Bye bye, Twitter and Facebook."

Read more: German government hack presents media with dilemma

Habeck had earlier received backlash for the wording used in a campaign video posted on Twitter ahead of this year's Thuringia state elections. "We're trying to do everything so that Thuringia becomes an open, free, liberal, democratic and ecological state," he said in the video, prompting critics to question why Habeck did not already believe the state was free and democratic.

Misleading tweets

Habeck refuted the notion that he felt the eastern German state lacked these attributes. "Of course, I don't," he argued in the article announcing his departure from social media. Habeck explained that he did not mean Thuringia should "become" free and democratic, but that it should remain so.

The post was not Habeck's first to cause a stir. In the wake of state elections in Bavaria last October, he drew criticism for tweeting that "finally, there is democracy again in Bavaria" after the Greens won the second-most votes in the southern German state.

In his article, Habeck blamed Twitter itself for the uproar: "It appears Twitter triggers something in me, I become more aggressive, louder, more polemic and to the point."

Read more: Six hack attacks that shook the world

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No other digital platform is "so aggressive," no other platform sees such "hatred, malice and agitation," Habeck said, adding that it appeared Twitter was "rubbing off on me" and thus obscuring his usual style of politics. He added that he did not want to appear "arrogant, a know-it-all," but to "see and take seriously the interests of the other side."

Habeck is known in Germany as a relatively reflective, nonpolemical politician — and that is indeed how he presents himself on the country's television talk shows. He admitted, however, that after making media appearances, he would "greedily check" Twitter to see how he had done, and that he then "speaks out like the medium wants him to."

Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck
Habeck has led the Greens along with Annalena Baerbock for almost a yearImage: Getty Images

'Perhaps a political mistake'

Habeck didn't only blame his "own mistakes" for the sudden withdrawal from social media, but also the recent mass data hack in Germany affecting numerous leading politicians and media figures. In Habeck's case, private messages with his wife and son were stolen from his Facebook account and passed on via Twitter. As a result, he said he will also leave Facebook, a key communication channel for politicians in Germany. "Perhaps, that is a political mistake," said Habeck, adding that he believes it would be a bigger mistake not to take the step.

Read more: The surprising success of Germany's Green Party

Habeck has led the Greens for almost a year alongside Annalena Baerbock. This past year, the party did extremely well in state parliamentary elections in Bavaria and Hesse, and even garnered 20 percent in opinion polls nationwide.

Habeck said he hopes he'll be more focused without Twitter and Facebook, with an eye on "the long distance, not the short-term gain in ground." It is unclear whether he also plans to close his Instagram account, which has more than 20,000 followers. The photo and video sharing platform is generally considered less politically contentious and is frequented by young voters.

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