Monthly Archives: January 2022

A Reflection on the Connection between Facebook and Anti-Refugee Violence in Germany

#Onlinehatecrime #Socialmedia #Migrants #refugees #Germany #attacksonmigrants

By Anosh Samuel

Editorial note: The author completed a virtual internship at the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC, in the fall/winter of 2021/22. Anosh Samuel hails from Islamabad, Pakistan and is currently studying for a Master in Roads to Democracies at the University of Siegen in Germany. He plans to work on a final Master’s Project about “Migration, integration and social media (case study of Pakistani students in Germany).” He’s keenly interested in international politics, policy and decision making, social media and migration, diplomacy and communication, research and analysis, and foreign policy. In his free time, he plays guitar, loves to read and write articles, watches historical documentaries, watches NEWS, and reads newspapers. He’s reachable at anosh_samuel [ at ] yahoo.com. 

This blog, “A Reflection on the Connection between Facebook and Anti-Refugee Violence in Germany,” analyzes the study “Facebook and propagating hate against migrants and refugees in Germany” by Karsten Müller and Carlo Schwarz (2020).” What are the contributing patterns and factors on Facebook towards hate against refugees and migrants in Germany? Are users of Facebook and other social media politically or ideologically influenced? Based on a report published by Hamburg-based Statista Research Department (2021), 42.8 million users actively use Facebook in Germany. Social media has become a wide source of information and news. The shared information spreads like wildfire. A staggering number of 87% of internet users in Germany use WhatsApp, followed by YouTube 69%, and further 63% of the German population use Facebook, according to the 2020 survey. This means any event could reach 63% of the German population in just a blink of an eye, not considering the shared content on WhatsApp. 28% of Facebook users in Germany are between 25-34 years old.

Müller and Schwarz argue that Facebook, used by a considerable percentage of adults as a news source, could propagate hateful sentiments. Their argument is partially based on research on Facebook’s role in spreading online hate in the US by the Pew Research Center (2018).  Germany saw the influx of one million migrants in 2015 and 2016, and the “Amadeu Antonio Stiftung,” a nonprofit organization, registered an astounding 11,200 between 2015 and 2019 incidents against refugees in Germany (Spreter, 2021). The scholars also explored the Facebook page of the German right-wing party “Alternative for Deutschland (AFD),” which has a larger reach than the sites of any other political party in Germany. AFD was and is still the third-largest party in the 2017 general elections and again sustained the consistent third position in 2021 (Results Germany – The Federal Returning Officer, n.d.).

Unlike other political factions such as German Social Democrats (SPD) and Christian Democratic Union (CDU); AFD enabled its followers to directly post messages on a Facebook wall. Civil rights groups identified content on AFD’s page that focused on refugees and deemed the content as ‘hate speeches’. The authors note that hate crimes mostly take place in areas with higher traffic of Facebook users. Municipalities that experienced Facebook outages and disruptions that they used as control locations experienced fewer hate crimes. Essentially, the authors argue that the more AFD users are engaged with Facebook in German regions, the more prevalent are hate crimes; the less engaged people are with Facebook, the less prevalent hate crimes appeared to be. 

Incidents Targeting Refugees in 2016

Source: DW. (2017) Attacks on refugee homes as high as ever, German Criminal Police Office says | DW | 28.04.2016DW.COM. Available at: https://www.dw.com/en/attacks-on-refugee-homes-as-high-as-ever-german-criminal-police-office-says/a-19221702 (Accessed: 10 December 2021).

The groups of perpetrators attacking refugees are driven by collective actions. First, social media is a driving factor for collective outcomes. Second, the collective outcomes of attacks have a spillover effect. The elevation of right-wing sentiments is considerably more common in the towns next to each other based on the spillover effect. The spillover effect could also be supported by the domino effect; a cumulative set of actions produce similar actions.

To the extent that social media has driven the polarization of society, does it also contribute to hate crimes against refugees and migrants? Social media has divided people’s thoughts, and there are two dominating blocs of social media users: one bloc of people who are pro-migrants, and another bloc who is anti-migrants. Polarization of society becomes especially evident when parties like CDU and SPD bring forth migrant-friendly policies.  Recently, for example, SPD, Greens, and FDP proposed overhauling German migrant and citizenship laws, strengthening integration of migrants into society with a promise to allow migrants to hold dual citizenship (DW, 2021). This proposal prompted strong reactions by migrants’ rights on social media. On the one hand, migrants and migration rights groups voiced their enthusiastic support. On the other hand, right-wing groups criticized the proposal.

Percentage of Social Media Hate Speeches Deleted After User Reports

Source: DW. (2017) Bundestag passes law to fine social media companies for not deleting hate speech | DW | 30.06.2017DW.COM. Available at: https://www.dw.com/en/bundestag-passes-law-to-fine-social-media-companies-for-not-deleting-hate-speech/a-39486694 (Accessed: 30 November 2021).

To tackle hate crimes, the German parliament (Bundestag) in 2017 passed a law imposing fines on social media companies for not deleting online hate speeches/ content or offending posts (Welle, 2017). Big companies such as Facebook and Twitter could be fined up to 50 million Euros and they are liable to delete the offensive content “which is obvious” within 24 hours. If the content seems ambiguous, companies have 7 days to deal with such content.  Soon after the law was passed, Facebook opened a center operated by service provider Competence Call Center in the Western German city Essen to ramp up the anti-hate subject (DW, 2017).

The prejudices towards foreign culture etc. in Germany are persistent and are reflected by social media.  The authors hold social media platforms responsible for real-life actions and content full of hate. They are shedding light on anti-migrant attacks and online posts. While considering policy debates about regulating and controlling hate speeches on social media, the authors also found that online hateful/offensive content is ignored by policymakers.

Before concluding the discussion, I would like to mention that a study by Matthias Ekman  (Ekman, 2019) also analyzes Facebook posts and comments that could potentially amplify antagonistic and violent behavior towards migrants. The analysis is based on news sources and social media posts on Facebook (Ekman, 2019:613-616). The study emphasizes that citizens are not only politically motivated, but can also be emotionally persuaded. The study  highlights that racist sentiments and emotions are passed on to a large audience using Facebook groups. The online public on social media, whether influenced by politically and belonging to far-right groups, cherish anti-immigrant behavior – Ekman (2019:606-607) posits that public opinion certainly can be manipulated on refugees and immigrants. Far-right political actors utilize nationalistic approaches to harbor citizens’ emotions. The nationalistic approaches ultimately create a sense of insecurity i.e. harboring intolerance due to cultural differences. . Such emotions of insecurity appeal to a like-minded larger audience Migrants and refugees have been marginalized and targeted not only on Facebook but also on other social networking channels.

 

Primary Source:

Müller, K. and Schwarz, C., 2020. Fanning the flames of hate: Social media and hate crime. Journal of the European Economic Association, 19(4), pp.2131-2167.

Secondary Sources:

American Psychological Association. (2017). The Psychology of Hate Crimes.  https://www.apa.org/advocacy/interpersonal-violence/hate-crimes

Dean, B., 2021. How Many People Use Social Media in 2021? Retrieved 28 November 2021, from https://backlinko.com/social-media-users

DW. (2017). Facebook ramps up anti-hate campaign in Germany. DW.  09.08.2017. Retrieved 5 December 2021, from https://www.dw.com/en/facebook-ramps-up-anti-hate-campaign-in-germany/a-40021761

DW.(2021) Germany: Post-Merkel government set to ease migration, citizenship rules. DW. 25.11.2021. Available at: https://www.dw.com/en/germany-post-merkel-government-set-to-ease-migration-citizenship-rules/a-59935900 (Accessed: 12 January 2022).

Ekman, M. (2019). Anti-immigration and racist discourse in social media. European Journal of Communication, 34(6), 606–618. https://doi.org/10.1177/0267323119886151

Müller, K. and Schwarz, C., 2020. Fanning the flames of hate: Social media and hate crime. Journal of the European Economic Association, 19(4), pp.2131-2167.

Results Germany—The Federal Returning Officer. (n.d.). Retrieved November 29, 2021, from https://www.bundeswahlleiter.de/en/bundestagswahlen/2021/ergebnisse/bund-99.html

Results Germany—The Federal Returning Officer. (n.d.). Retrieved 3 December 2021, from https://www.bundeswahlleiter.de/en/bundestagswahlen/2021/ergebnisse/bund-99.html

Spreter, J. (2021). Rassismus: Zahl der Gewalttaten gegen Geflüchtete ist weiter auf hohem Niveau. Die Zeit. https://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2021-12/gewalt-gegen-gefluechtete-rassismus-studie-deutschland

Statista. (2021). Social media used in Germany 2020 | Retrieved 5 December 2021, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1059426/social-media-usage-germany/

Welle, D., (2016). German police chief concerned at growing anti-refugee violence. DW. 14.05.2016. Retrieved November 30, 2021, from https://www.dw.com/en/german-police-chief-concerned-at-growing-anti-refugee-violence/a-19257795

Welle, D., (2017). Bundestag passes law to fine social media companies for not deleting hate speech.DW. 30.06.2017. DW.COM. Retrieved November 30, 2021, from https://www.dw.com/en/bundestag-passes-law-to-fine-social-media-companies-for-not-deleting-hate-speech/a-39486694