Digital violence: Hate online is increasing

Digital violence: Hate online is increasing

Women and people with a migrant background are particularly affected by violence online. The study editors warn that diversity of opinion is suffering.

Stop Hate Aid protest in front of the Reichstag in Berlin in November 2023 Photo: Stefan Boness

BERLIN taz | The climate online is becoming increasingly hostile. Hate messages and sexual violence are increasing, while diverse discourse is decreasing. The representative study “Loud hate – quiet withdrawal. How hate on the Internet threatens democratic discourse”, the “Competence Network against Hate” warns of the consequences of digital violence. In order to find out how internet users deal with hate messages and who is particularly affected, the network digitally surveyed more than 3,000 people aged 16 and over about their internet behavior. The study was carried out by Das NETTZ, the Society for Media Education and Communication Culture (GMK), HateAid and the New German Media Makers.

“Hate on the internet is omnipresent,” said Federal Family Minister Lisa Paus (Greens) when presenting the study results on Tuesday morning. A first nationwide survey from 2019 by the Institute for Democracy and Civil Society (IDZ) warned of the escalating extent of discrimination and threats of violence online.

The current study continues the negative trend and shows how hate appears to be normalizing online. “Hate online is an attack on diversity of opinion. It can affect everyone, but it doesn’t affect everyone equally,” says Elena Kountidou, managing director of the New German Media Makers. The focus is particularly on young people as well as people with a visible migration background and queer people.

A third of each of the last two groups mentioned say they are affected. Among 16 to 24-year-olds, who particularly use platforms such as Tiktok and Instagram, women are particularly victims of digital violence. Almost one in three reports hate online.

A quarter say they deactivate their profiles

The definition of hate on the internet goes beyond hate speech; it also includes sexual violence, stalking or doxing, and the publication of personal data. Most often, the hatred relates to the political views of those affected and their appearance. Digital violence often takes the form of insults and false allegations.

What is considered hate is individual. When asked the specific question: “Have you been affected by hate online?”, 15 percent of those surveyed agreed. However, around a quarter of those surveyed said they frequently experienced at least one form of hate online. The study explains the differences by saying that not every insult is viewed as hate online. Younger people in particular seem to accept this as normal to a certain degree.

Rüdiger Fries from the Society for Media Education and Communication Culture warns of the consequences for those affected and the digital discourse. 82 percent of those affected blocked or reported their perpetrators. A quarter of those affected say they deactivate or delete their profiles. The field will be left to the haters as the hostile people withdraw from the discourse.

In order to strengthen discourse and democracy in the digital world, the competence network calls for comprehensive advice on media skills in schools and companies. The platform providers should also be held more responsible.


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