The SPD politician Sawsan Chebli is one of those who are particularly often the target of hate comments on social media. She has now written a book about it.
Sawsan Chebli knows pretty well what it feels like to live with death threats and insults. Since the SPD politician and former State Secretary has been using Twitter for her work, she has regularly experienced hate and hate speech there. Even if this is now part of her everyday life – she doesn’t leave it cold. If a shitstorm is brewing about her on Twitter, says Chebli, her heart is still racing.
Chebli reports on this in a new book that she co-wrote with author Miriam Stein. To do this, she spoke to network experts, employees of the Facebook group Meta and others who, like herself, are the target of digital violence. “Loud. Why hate speech is real violence and how we can stop it” will be published on Wednesday (March 29).
That’s how hate comments work
In the book, Chebli describes how hate comments work, what makes them so dangerous, and why – despite new laws – the problem still exists. And why, in her opinion, one should not turn one’s back on social media – as SPD chairwoman Saskia Esken did on Twitter last year.
For people in countries where there is no freedom of expression, social media are existential and could save lives, says Chebli of the dpa. And in Western democracies, too, they could unleash enormous positive power. For example, if they were used to put pressure on politicians.
This perspective also has to do with Chebli’s biography. As the daughter of Palestinian refugees who were dependent on transfer payments, she grew up with twelve siblings in Berlin. The Muslim woman was stateless until she was 15. Her family often felt powerless at the mercy of the German state, says Chebli. Especially when the father was deported and had to leave the country. “Back then, we didn’t even dare to dream of a platform like Twitter, where you can publicize problems immediately.”
Accessible to victims at all times
Today, Chebli wants to be available via Twitter at any time for people whose voice is less audible and who have a specific request. Chebli accepts the hatred she is met with – for example because she is a woman, a Muslim with a migration background, who is successful and has a voice. And also the fear that he doesn’t stop at her real life.
Numerous cases in which digital violence has spread to the analogue world show that this is not unfounded. The murder of the Kassel district president Walter Lübcke in 2019 is just the tip of the iceberg. Chebli has also been physically attacked. Today they accompany bodyguards on certain dates.
Even more than death threats, she says, she fears those who remain silent out of fear – and leave the platforms to the enemies of democracy. Studies show that this happens. Experts warn that hate speech restricts freedom of expression online and shifts perceived majorities.
Many are silent out of fear
But what to do? Chebli’s desire for platform alternatives in Europe that focus on the well-being of society instead of profit seems unrealistic to many experts. After all, politicians and the judiciary have recognized the problems – and are slowly making companies more responsible for deleting illegal content – and for identifying it themselves. This is shown by cases such as that of the Green politician Renate Künast, who has already won twice in court against Facebook and the Meta group.
A new EU law, the rules of which for particularly large platforms will apply across the EU from September, also gives many hope. It is intended to provide more consumer protection and stricter supervision of online platforms.
appeal to civil society
Chebli, who currently holds no political office but volunteers in foundations and organizations, also appeals to civil society to be active on social media. And to make this a friendlier place where people like to get together and debate. Chebli suggests that you could like, retweet or spread more positive stories there. And standing by those affected by hate.
“Targeted hate attacks are intended to drive victims into isolation, to give them the feeling that they are alone,” says Chebli. That can be broken. “You don’t have to take part in all battles at once.” You can report illegal content. And show solidarity with those affected, write them positive messages. Love storms versus shit storms.
“Laut” is not the first book to deal with hatred on the internet. That doesn’t make it any less important. You don’t have to agree with all of the ideas in it. If it leads to raising awareness of the topic, a lot has already been done.
Information from the publisher about the book
I am an author and journalist who has worked in the entertainment industry for over a decade. I currently work as a news editor at a major news website, and my focus is on covering the latest trends in entertainment. I also write occasional pieces for other outlets, and have authored two books about the entertainment industry.