From the Washington Post:
By Anthony Faiola January 6 at 7:16 PM
BERLIN — Donald Trump may be testing the boundaries of tolerance on the U.S. campaign trail. But here in Germany, the government is effectively enforcing civility, taking aim at a surge of hate speech against refugees and Muslims.
As Western Europe’s most populous nation grapples with a historic wave of mostly-Muslim migrants, politicians and activists are decrying a rash of incendiary speech bubbling to the surface of German society. In a country whose Nazi past led to some of the strictest laws in the West protecting minorities from people inciting hatred, prosecutors are launching investigations into inflammatory comments as judges dole out fines, even probation time, to the worst offenders.
German authorities, meanwhile, have reached a deal with Facebook, Google and Twitter to get tougher on offensive content, with the outlets agreeing to apply domestic laws, rather than their own corporate policies, to reviews of posts.
Critics call it the enforcement of political correctness, raising the question of what constitutes hate speech and sparking a national debate over free expression. Germans have been outraged, for instance, by reports of more than 100 sexual assaults and robberies in the city of Cologne allegedly committed by gangs of young Arab and North African men on New Year’s Eve.
The German media largely stonewalled reporting these events in one of Germany’s most prominent public spaces for half a week.
Some Germans are questioning whether their online comments could be taken down, or whether they could be charged with incitement, for publicly pondering whether refugees could have been among the assailants.
Two of the suspects have been identified as Moroccan citizens. But Cologne police say they have not yet determined whether any of the assailants were recently arrived asylum seekers. Nevertheless, the incidents have fed a strain of anger and suspicion here beyond the traditional migrant critics in the right wing.
“It’s not politically correct to say anything against migrants. We don’t have freedom of opinion anymore. #Cologne,” Tweeted a German user from Hanover going by the handle Pulvermann.
Proponents are hailing the government effort as a way to foment respect while also controlling the most savage voices in society.
I.e., Germans, not the Iron Age immigrants who are attacking women.
… Yet even leaders on the political left are questioning whether the bid to weed out hate is going too far.
Stefan Körner, chairman of Germany’s liberal Pirate Party, argued that democracies “must be able to bear” a measure of xenophobia. He condemned the government’s deal with social media outlets to get tougher on offensive speech, saying that “surely it will lead to too many rather than too few comments being blocked. This is creeping censorship, and we definitely don’t want that.”
It remains unclear how aggressive social media sites are being — some highly offensive posts in German have indeed been quickly removed from Facebook in recent days while others have lingered online for days. Yet the push here happens as a country with a built-in sensitivity to provocative speech has seen a decidedly fiercer public discourse as more than 1 million asylum seekers and migrants crossed Germany’s border last year.
… The surge of incendiary comments online has been so strong that one of Germany’s largest media outlets, Der Spiegel, disabled its readers’ comment function for articles related to refugees. …
Such rhetoric — considered harsher than anything seen here in years — is alarming many Germans, including Chancellor Angela Merkel. In her New Year speech, Merkel, who has adopted one of the most open policies in Europe toward asylum seekers fleeing war in the Middle East, warned against the forces of hate once again brewing in Germany.
Her countrymen, she said, should not listen to “those with coldness, or even hate in their hearts, and who claim the right to be called German for themselves alone and seek to marginalize others.”
It would seem like there ought to be more interest at the moment in finding out how the hundreds of Muslims who attacked German women in Cologne used social media to organize their flash mob. But I guess there just isn’t.
Moreover, the great Hegira of 2015 was presumably organized on smartphones using platforms including Facebook, Google, and Twitter, so perhaps there should be some inquiry into that?
Germany does have a problem with violence by thugs who are anti-immigrant: cases of arson, and the poor mayoress of Cologne got stabbed by a rightwinger last fall. The co-founder of the PEGIDA protests is a nightclub promoter with a long criminal record from his younger days.
But I wonder if the sleaziness of some of the public opponents of immigration in Germany is an effect more than a cause of the legal and social restraints on freedom of speech on this crucial topic?