Jan Böhmermann wants to fight online hate speech with an army of "love" trolls. The controversial satirist has said more than 50,000 people have already signed up to serve on the digital frontline.
One of Germany's best-known satirists on Thursday invited attendees at the Re:publica internet conference in Berlin to join his new initiative for fighting "trolls" who spread hateful material online.
Jan Böhmermann said the initiative — dubbed "Reconquista Internet" — had already attracted more than 50,000 sign-ups since he first announced it in late April on his late-night television show Neo Magazin Royale.
Hate vs. love and reason
According to its Twitter profile, the initiative calls on supporters to spread "love and reason" online to fight far-right "trolls" — people who post inflammatory material online to provoke a backlash.
In one of its Twitter posts, the movement posted an image of an apparent Nazi holding an LGBT+ flag with the caption: "Germany awaken and send the gift of love!"
Supporters of the initiative have posted hearts, kiss emojis and LGBT+ flags alongside ostensibly sarcastic comments on the pages of prominent far-right German figures, including politicians from the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and supporters of the anti-immigrant Identitarian movement.
Böhmermann himself urged supporters at the conference to post extracts of Germany's constitution in far-right online forums.
Founding a 'civil rights movement'
Böhmermann started "Reconquista Internet" in response to "Reconquista Germanica," a far-right online German movement.
Research by a documentary for Germany's public broadcasters had shown "Reconquista Germanica" was attempting to influence public opinion with targeted troll campaigns against mainstream media and high-profile personalities, including Böhmermann.
The positive response to "Reconquista Internet" was so great that the initiative's internet server crashed when the number of sign-ups hit 51,500, Böhmermann wrote in a Twitter post on Tuesday.
Speaking in Berlin, he said: "We've founded a civil rights movement by accident."
Böhmermann is known in Germany for his provocative satire, but he is best-known for sparking a diplomatic spat between Germany and Turkey over a critical poem he wrote about Turkish President Recep Erdogan in 2016.
The poem, which among other descriptions, said Erdogan engaged in sexual escapades with goats, was fiercely denounced in Turkey and led Erdogan to seek redress under an archaic German law that forbids insulting a foreign head of state.
Prosecutors opened a criminal probe into the incident but dropped it months later amid public criticism saying there was not sufficient evidence to pursue a case. The law was later struck from Germany's legal code.