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Online extremism

July 22, 2011

The protection of young people is a top priority in Germany. But as neo-Nazis increasingly use the Internet to appeal to young people, youth protection agencies are demanding action.

Right-wing extremism on Facebook
The far right has long discovered FacebookImage: picture alliance/dpa

The dangers of right-wing extremism on the Internet cannot be ignored. That was the message at the launch in Berlin on Thursday of a joint annual report compiled by the Federal Agency for Civic Education (bpb) and the youth protection organization Jugendschutz.net.

According to bpb president Thomas Krüger, the huge popularity of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube has resulted in a new threat to the safety of young people.

He warned that, as users migrate from traditional web portals to Web 2.0, they are becoming increasingly exposed to hate propaganda and extremist activity.

"From monitoring this activity, we have found the number of cases has tripled, which means there is a need to readjust the strategy for tackling it."

Web 2.0 is a term used to describe the modern way Internet users interact online. It covers the shift towards information sharing, video sharing, social networking and blogs.

With the growth of Web 2.0, youth protection agencies are concerned that it is now virtually impossible to monitor Internet content adequately. Around the world more than 35 hours of video footage are uploaded to the Internet every minute.

There are just under 19 million Facebook users in Germany, many of whom are "digital natives." This makes warning young people about the dangers of modern media extremely problematic. Kids who have grown up with the Internet no longer use older media which offer information about online safety. They are therefore often unaware of the risks.

Playing on emotions

Thomas Krüger, president of the Federal Agency for Civic Education
Thomas Krüger is calling for stricter terms for Internet useImage: dapd

Right-wing extremists in Germany are taking full advantage of the Web 2.0 era, using it to target young people directly. Appealing to young peoples' emotions is one of the neo-Nazis' most successful strategies, says Stefan Glaser from Jugendschutz.net.

"Music and video are the main carriers of the extreme right-wing propaganda," says Glaser.

A current online video shows torch-bearers whose faces are covered with white masks on a night march through empty streets. Dramatic music plays underneath the scene, as neo-Nazis warn viewers about the "threat of the death of the nation."

Such videos deliberately manipulate young peoples' need for communication and their potential susceptibility to evocative messages.

Links to more information or related Internet forums are generally attached to the videos.

"You could say that Web 2.0 services present an ideal forum for mobilizing the largest number of young people," says Glaser.

Fighting a losing battle

The law in Germany says that Internet providers are only indirectly responsible for what their users write or upload.

Stefan Glaser from Jugendschutz.net
The Internet is easily exploited by extremist groups, says Stefan GlaserImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Users only have to delete offensive material such as racist comments if they are reported. This is a role which "Jugendschutz.net" tries to fill. Cooperation with the providers is proving successful, says Stefan Glaser, but catching all these comments is far from easy.

Freedom of expression reigns supreme on the internet. Only 15 percent of suspected cases of unsuitable material which were examined were indeed legally inadmissible.

Any hate videos which are deleted are often quickly replaced with similar video uploads.

It is also extremely difficult to access offending content which comes from servers in other countries such as the US where freedom of expression is more broadly defined than in Germany.

Cooperation in Europe

The International Network Against Cyber Hate (INACH) was created in 2002, partly on the initiative of Jugendschutz.net, to tackle this problem.

Colleagues from different countries discuss strategies and work together in concrete cases - for example, if a video needs to be deleted from a Ukrainian server.

International Network Against Cyber Hate logo
INACH aims to increase international cooperation

Improved European cooperation has made navigating this difficult terrain far easier, says Stefan Glaser, who is also the co-founder of INACH.

Germany's youth protection activists hope that a greater awareness of lines being overstepped in Internet communication will also spread beyond Europe.

Appeals can be made to providers to change their terms of business so that rules are clearly set out and it is clear that violations will be punished.

Need for regulations

Introducing a software filter would be another way to protect young people. A filter would, for example, prevent a new version of a deleted file from being uploaded. But the willingness to make the necessary investments for such software is often lacking.

Alongside traditional teaching about risks, Thomas Krüger from the Federal Agency for Civic Education, hopes that more people will turn into Internet activists and take action against the misuse of Web 2.0.

Germany is facing a major challenge, he says. The Internet is not above the law. Germany needs to get a process started to develop strict rules for Internet use.

That's not to say that the Internet should become a police state, but "not everything should go online which is being released at the moment," says Krüeger. Ultimately, Germany's constitution, the Basic Law, should also apply to communication on the Internet.

Author: Kay-Alexander Scholz / ccp
Editor: Susan Houlton