Wolfgang Schäuble′s Bundestag Twitter ban met with backlash by parliamentarians | News | DW | 23.11.2017
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Wolfgang Schäuble's Bundestag Twitter ban met with backlash by parliamentarians

The Bundestag's new speaker, Wolfgang Schäuble, has asked lawmakers not to tweet during sessions. The call has been met with resistance and raised questions about social media's role in German politics.

In a memo sent out earlier this week to all 709 Bundestag members, new parliamentary speaker Wolfgang Schäuble said that the use of mobile devices "to photograph, tweet or distribute information about the session" was inappropriate and thus "undesired."

The German parliament's procedural rules do not provide any rules for the use of social media during parliamentary meetings. In fact, lawmakers' social media activity, particularly coming from the sidelines of plenary debates, has often provided a window into how Germany's political machine works.

Read more: Bundestag cybercampaigns take to Facebook and Twitter

Nowhere was this more evident than in the run-up to the German lower houses' decision to legalize gay marriage earlier this year. Parliamentarians took to Twitter and Facebook in droves to share their views ahead of what proved to be a historic vote. 

Watch video 04:01

Digital strategies in German election campaign

A move that muffles the AfD?

Schäuble's motive, therefore, remains unclear, although it may be tied to the far-right Alternative for Germany's (AfD) entry into the Bundestag.

The AfD has been accused of exploiting radicalization online for its own political gain. In an interview with German media last year, Justice Minister Heiko Maas said that "catering to xenophobic sentiment is part of the AfD's approach."

Maas went on to say that the far-right party posts xenophobic statements online only to walk them back later. But by then, he added, "the oil has already been added to the fire."

This came to a head in the run-up to September's general election, when research into the AfD's online presence showed that the party was far more successful than all of Germany's other parties in harnessing social media to engage with its prospective voter base. A study by the Oxford Computational Propaganda project found that around 30 percent of all election-related tweets between September 1 and 10 contained hashtags specifically associated with the AfD.

Read more: Germany's AfD takes on Trump campaign-linked Harris Media for social media

The party ultimately finished third in September's vote, taking more than 13 percent of the vote and claiming 92 seats in the new parliament.

Lawmakers across all parties hit back at Twitter ban

While social media has penetrated the German political landscape, its impact has been far more limited than, say, in the United States.

Ahead of the election, only a select few candidates employed a team to handle digital presence or invest in online campaign advertising. It was amid that reliance on traditional campaign methods that the AfD and their legion of tech-savvy supporters capitalized.

Whatever Schäuble's intentions, the proposed ban was met with backlash and derision from across the political spectrum.

Read more: Online hate speech, conspiracy theories boom in Germany

Christian Social Union politician Dorothee Baer told Germany's Funke Media Group Thursday that, while she too was critical of the use of smartphones in the Bundestag to a point, "social media, when used properly, is the digital counterpart to the glass dome of our parliament building as a symbol and means of transparency."

Social media, Baer added, had built bridges to citizens "that I would hate to see torn down."

Petra Sitte of the Left Party went a step further, stating she would outright ignore Schäuble's request and saying: "We live in an open media society in which speed is sometimes everything."

 

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