Measure against agitation: Hildmann’s reach is very limited

fact finder

As of: 06/09/2021 12:50 p.m.

Right-wing extremist Attila Hildmann reached more than 100,000 subscribers through Telegram. Now its range has been severely limited. Facebook also announced new measures against hateful content.

From Patrick Gensing,
Editor ARD fact finder

Attila Hildmann is notorious for his outbursts of hatred: He repeatedly caused a stir with anti-Semitic agitation and open threats of violence. An arrest warrant has been issued against Hildmann; he is currently said to be abroad.

But via the messenger service Telegram, Hildmann was able to continue serving his followers with radical content and spreading threats. This is now largely over: his Telegram channel with more than 100,000 subscribers can no longer be reached via many applications and devices.

Hildmann’s channel is no longer displayed.

What exactly is behind this blocking is still unclear. The channel seems to still exist on Telegram, but apparently Apple and Google have blocked access, various media speculate. For example, it says in the Telegram app on Apple devices that the channel cannot be displayed.

Google denies this

When asked, a Google spokesman denied that the company had actually intervened:

Assumptions that Google blocked access to a personal channel within the Telegram app obtained via Google Play are incorrect. Such an intervention cannot be carried out by Google.

Apple did not comment on the specific case, but referred to the guidelines of the app store. There it says, among other things, that apps with racist content would not be accepted.

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Telegram has not yet responded to a short-term request. In the meantime, “replacement channels” have emerged that are supposed to be from Hildmann. At least one is obviously a fake.

Telegram is considered a hotspot of hate, as even open threats of violence and the most serious insults were almost never sanctioned here. However, the operators in the USA had also taken measures against militant groups after the storm on the Capitol in Washington and, according to their own statements, blocked dozen of channels. In the Hildmann case, too, it seems unlikely that Apple or Google could block individual channels, but presumably this goes back to Telegram itself.

From the network to the street

The crackdown on hateful content has been a game of cat and mouse for years. At the beginning of the millennium, right-wing extremist groups had set up websites that were often registered abroad in order to protect themselves against criminal consequences. But the technical infrastructure was often poorly protected; Hacker attacks, increasing pressure to investigate and a limited range made it difficult to spread the propaganda.

With the triumph of social networks, many political fanatics quickly turned to platforms like Facebook – to network and, above all, to reach far more people. For example, some violent protests against refugees from 2014 onwards can be traced back to Facebook groups masquerading as “citizens’ initiatives”.

New measures on Facebook

Facebook has been criticized for years because the online giant is not acting effectively enough against hateful content and attempts at manipulation. Now Facebook has announced new measures: For example, the network has recently stopped proposing political and newly founded groups to users in Germany. In addition, Facebook no longer recommends health-related groups or removes groups that “repeatedly spread false information”. The background here is likely to be the flood of disinformation about the corona pandemic.

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If a group begins to violate the “community standards”, their recommendation will also be restricted. “This means that users are less likely to discover them,” writes Facebook. This is comparable to the “procedure in the news feed, where we display low-quality articles below so that fewer people see them”. Facebook’s mechanism suggests groups and pages that should suit the respective users – and can thus open up an entry into radical parallel worlds.

Trump remains banned

Facebook also decided to keep former US President Donald Trump’s profile blocked until at least January 2023. After Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol on January 6, the company blocked his access for inciting violence.

Twitter has also suspended Trump’s account. He, in turn, welcomed the ban on Twitter in Nigeria: “More countries should ban Twitter and Facebook because they do not allow free and open expression – all voices should be heard.” Trump went on to say that, as president, he should have blocked the networks as well.

“Alternative” platforms are no alternative

Small services like Parler are often named as a new home for blocked users. The example of Trump himself shows that such projects are not an equivalent substitute: since his banishment from Twitter, the former US president has barely managed to spread his provocations and often already refuted claims globally.

Platforms that are set up by political activists are mostly limited to their own clientele and thus do not achieve any relevant reach. In addition, such projects often have to struggle with problems because service providers end the cooperation because they do not want to be associated with the dissemination of hateful content. So Parler had to stop operating temporarily.

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Smaller platforms, on the other hand, have proven themselves as a protected retreat for activists to develop strategies and swarm out in a coordinated manner – as was the case, for example, in the 2017 federal election campaign.

The agitation continues

However, the experience of recent years shows that inhuman attitudes and hatred do not disappear through measures against the corresponding content in social networks or with messenger services. However, they limit their spread and thus presumably also their effect. In most cases, however, such measures are only taken after certain events – for example manipulation attempts in elections, attacks or the attack on the Capitol.

The hate attacks on Telegram also continue, as research shows. In groups with names like “Uncensored”, which have tens of thousands of members, there is talk of “Jewish biological weapons” and the “genocide of whites”. The problem of inhuman agitation cannot be solved at the push of a button.

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