Videos depicting horrific violence and rape have been found circulating in high school students' chat groups across the country. Youngsters are often unaware of the consequences of being caught with illegal content.
Police and educators in Germany are concerned over an increasing amount of violent, extremist and illegal content being shared by German teens in online chat group platforms like WhatsApp.
In a report published Wednesday by newspapers of the Funke Mediengruppe, the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) warned that chats are becoming more "radical and brutal."
One group was exposed after a girl collapsed in school after watching a video of a man being beheaded with a chainsaw that was shared in her class chat group. Another group sharing hate speech was uncovered when a parent was accidentally added.
However, officials said most of the time the chats stay hidden from parents and teachers.
Images of child abuse
In October 2019, German Federal Police carried out a nationwide child pornography investigation that netted 21 suspects between 14 and 26 years old.
However, prosecutors said that the suspects were not pedophiles, but had "thoughtlessly" shared the content.
"Most of the time, the videos included music and commentary that they thought was meant to be funny," Markus Koths, head of the BKA's cybercrime unit told Funke Mediengruppe.
In many cases, the young people were surprised that sharing the videos made them subject to prosecution.
Videos depicting child abuse or sexual abuse continue to be shared in youth chat groups, police said in Wednesday's media report.
According to investigators, two videos currently are circulating in German high school chat groups: One allegedly shows two youths in Afghanistan raping a child and another shows children from the US or Canada forced to perform sex acts.
In one chat group, state prosecutors opened an investigation after it was discovered members were addressing each other with "sieg heil" and sharing images of swastikas.
However, educators said for the most part, the students are seldom right-wing extremists, but are rather trying to be provocative and impress their classmates. They are often unaware of the legal consequences.
In Germany, sharing images of swastikas is punishable by a fine, and spreading hate speech could carry a 5-year jail term.
More education needed
Chat groups are anonymous, which makes it easier for people to spread tasteless, or illegal, content without fearing any consequences. But rather than legal punishment, police said more education can help solve the problem.
"Introducing a class in media competence in high schools would be an important step," said Koths, adding that parents need to talk with their children about things like xenophobia and media abuse.