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Xenophobia can't be clicked away

Michael Münz / sbDecember 20, 2014

Bloggers are suggesting de-friending right-wing PEGIDA supporters on social media platforms such as Facebook. While it might seem like the right thing to do, this will not combat xenophobia, writes DW's Michael Münz.

Aktion "Abendspaziergang" in Düsseldorf
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Seidel

Some recent blogs have presented an interesting discovery: with the help of a link, I can see which of my Facebook friends like the page of the right-wing "Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the Occident" movement, or PEGIDA for short. And based on that, a number of authors have suggested that people "de-friend" their Facebook friends who have been identified by this tool as PEGIDA supporters - something along the lines of out of sight, out of mind.

But xenophobia of this dimension cannot simply be clicked away. Over 15,000 so-called "evening walkers" in Dresden and by now a good dozen other German cities, or 70,000 potential Facebook friends don't simply disappear because we look away.

Can the voice of reason reach PEGIDA empathizers?

It is perplexing. When established media give in to their journalist impulses and publish the criminal past of the PEGIDA organizer in Dresden, supporters of the movement only feel validated in their views. When renowned scientific institutions present studies proving that immigration is good for Germany, PEGIDA supporters think there's a conspiracy behind it.

Deutsche Welle Michael Münz
Michael MünzImage: DW/P. Henriksen

But if the media, established politics and science cannot reach PEGIDA supporters with these arguments, how can they be convinced they are on the wrong path? that the people they are walking with in the evening marches are questioning the basis of democracy? that the organizers of the marches don't even try to hide the fact that they belong to the right-wing scene? that the right is using them as vessels to carry their xenophobic and right-wing vitriol into the middle of society? There aren't many channels of communication left if you strike these. But Facebook is one!

Don't let the enemies of democracy take over

People tend to listen more to friends in social media than faceless journalists, scientists or politicians. And if PEGIDA uses social networks successfully, why shouldn't the defenders of democracy, human rights and press freedom do the same? Creative campaigns, engaging discussion and fortitude on the short term are surely more effective than the cancellation of friendships on social media. Those who don't think much of our constitution or democracy are not likely to be reached in this manner anyway - possibly those who have joined ranks with these demagogues to take a stand or out of frustration or ignorance. Clicking away friends, though, effectively means giving up trying to reach these people. And it also means leaving Facebook to the troublemakers.