The Local, July 13, 2016
Authorities have conducted the first ever nationwide raids on people suspected of spreading hate speech on the internet.
In the early hours of Wednesday morning, officers in all but two of the 16 German states moved in on properties connected to suspects in hate speech investigations.
Roughly 60 people across the country are believed to have taken part in a private Facebook group in which various German laws were broken, including praising of the Nazis.
At the centre of the operations was the Federal Office of Criminal Investigations (BKA), which stated that their aim was to “decisively confront” the strong growth in verbal radicalism which is appearing on the internet.”
Since December 2015, the BKA has been coordinating a police unit which combines state and federal police in a project called “Tackling Hate Posting”.
The unit was set up after Bavarian police observed regular “hate posts” being published on a secret Facebook page between July and November 2015.
According to the BKA, the posts often praised the Nazi era, included anti-Semitic content or other illegal far-right opinions.
German federal law states that spreading information which encourages violence against people due to their ethnic or religious background comes with a sentence of up to three years in jail.
“Today’s raids make one thing clear. German police are committed to tackling hate speech and provocation on the internet,” BKA chief Holger Münch said in a statement.
“Hate speech can not be allowed to poison the public debate. Attacks on refugee homes are often the result of a radicalization which begins on the internet.”
Facebook has been much criticized in Germany for not doing more to shut down hate speech on its network during the refugee crisis, with Justice Minister Heiko Maas a leading voice calling for better moderation on the site.
In October last year, prosecutors in Hamburg opened an investigation to determine whether to press charges against three Facebook managers over complaints alleging that the site facilitates incitement of hatred. But in March the investigation was dropped.
Several people have also already been handed hefty fines for writing racist posts on social media.
Consumer organization Stiftung Warentest recently published details on hate speech trials which showed courts handing down fines of up to €5,000.
Most notoriously, Lutz Bachmann, the leader of the xenophobic Pegida organization, was fined €9,600 in May for calling refugees “scum” in a series of Facebook posts.