PC keyboard with a red button and the inscription hate comment
Racism on the net: When words endanger people and democracy
March 21 - International Day against Racism
Racism has many facets. Hate speech is one of them. It often clearly oversteps the boundaries of freedom of expression. But the internet is not a legal vacuum.

Racism is still part of everyday life in Germany. One in five people have been affected by racism themselves (source). We also encounter racism online, for example in the form of hate speech. Racially discriminated people are particularly frequent targets of hate comments (source). The supposed anonymity of the internet makes it tempting to openly express hatred and misanthropy. The limits of freedom of expression are often clearly exceeded.

In addition to the direct impact of hate comments on us as people, hate comments also spread and normalize extremist ideologies - and ultimately endanger our democracy. Hate comments are not just words, because hate often does not remain online, but is reflected in analog acts of violence and causes them. This has been shown by numerous events with a signal effect, such as the racist attack in Hanau on February 19, 2020.

Hate online has many faces

Here's an example: memes are usually meant to be funny or sarcastic. However, many are also racist and inhumane - and punishable by law. Both the creation and forwarding of such content can be prohibited and therefore punishable by law if, for example,

  • they incite hatred or violence against a population group on the basis of their ethnicity, religion or nationality, or
  • attack, insult or slander a population group.

Public approval, denial or trivialization of the National Socialist reign of violence and despotism is also punishable.

Criminal liability

The following list provides an overview of possible relevant criminal offences:

  • Insult is an attack on the honour of another person by proclaiming disrespect towards the insulted person him/herself or towards third parties. A group can also be insulted. Those affected can file a criminal complaint within three months (petition offense).
  • Incriminating insult is an insult based on national, racial, religious or ethnic origin, ideology, disability or sexual orientation.
  • Libel is a demonstrably untrue assertion or dissemination of facts that disparages someone or degrades them in the court of public opinion (application offense).
  • Slander , on the other hand, is the untrue assertion of facts despite better knowledge (application offense).
  • Coercion is when a person is unlawfully threatened with violence or a serious evil in order to force an act, acquiescence or omission.
  • Threat is when someone threatens to commit a criminal offense against the sexual self-determination, physical integrity, personal freedom of the addressee or a person close to him/her or against an object of significant value.

Recommendations for action

The internet is not a legal vacuum and the police also prosecute crimes online. Therefore, report hate online and file a complaint.

  • Do not disseminate such content under any circumstances.
  • Document or secure the criminal content by taking screenshots - this will secure evidence, even if content is later deleted.
  • Some platforms have a community management system where content that violates netiquette can be reported.
  • File a criminal complaint via the online police report NRW or at any police station.
  • Together we are strong: contradict racist statements and offer support to those affected.
  • Are you looking for information on how you can actively counter hate online? The No hate speech campaign initiated by the Council of Europe has put together some memes on this.

Reporting points for hate online


Translated with DeepL.com (API Version)
In urgent cases: Police emergency number 110