How well does the prosecution of hate comments work online? The team from “ZDF Magazin Royale” wanted to find out with an experiment. The result: sobering. After all, there is now a new police song by Jan Böhmermann. By Simone Decker

The policeman’s son has struck again – and how. In his last “ZDF Magazin Royale” show before the summer break, Jan Böhmermann made Germany’s police look pretty old. What was it about? A topic that everyone who has spent more than half a minute on the Internet knows: hate comments, more precisely: punishable hate comments.

How well does the criminal prosecution of hate comments on the Internet actually work? Böhmermann and his team wanted to know, because: “Criminal offenses on the Internet quickly turn into criminal offenses in real life,” said the moderator. As examples he cited the murder of Kassel’s district president Walter Lübcke, the attack on the synagogue in Halle, the racist murders in Hanau and the gunman at the gas station in Idar-Oberstein – “just one of many criminals whose careers began on the Internet”. , according to Böhmermann.

That’s why the “ZDF Magazin Royale” team started “a small experiment” in August 2021. Correspondents swarmed out in all 16 federal states and wanted to report criminal hate comments online. The hate messages were all genuine: from the banned swastika image and Heinrich Himmler quote on Telegram to hate speech on Twitter and death threats against Christian Drosten. The hashtag for the show:

“Mei, it’s the internet!”

But even filing a complaint proved difficult at some police stations: “You found something on the Internet? Maybe you should try consumer protection,” advised a police officer from Saxony-Anhalt. Something like that is “not police work”. The answer in Bavaria was similarly disillusioning: “Mei, it’s the internet!” Since the correspondents were undercover, but not wired or with a hidden camera, memory protocols had to suffice as evidence.

In phase two of the experiment, the waiting began. After nine months, the employees of the comedy show finally identified themselves to the police and asked what had happened to their ads? Jan Böhmermann grinned mischievously: “There was a big hello from some of the police press offices.”

Police do not investigate at all – or only very slowly What was there in only a few cases: the hoped-for criminal prosecution. In Schleswig-Holstein, North Rhine-Westphalia and Saarland, for example, the proceedings regarding the swastika photo were dropped “since the perpetrator could not be identified.” The colleagues in Baden-Württemberg were already more successful. Not only had they identified a suspect, they had already fined him. With relish, Jan Böhmermann quoted from a statement by the Berlin police, in which they announced that the investigation was still ongoing. “You can stop the prosecution, the perpetrator has already been convicted for over six months,” says Böhmi smugly, “but seriously: should dubious entertainment programs like ours really coordinate the police and public prosecutor’s offices in criminal proceedings on the Internet?”

With the experiment, the “ZDF Magazin Royale” drastically demonstrated what the lawyer Elisa Hoven from the University of Leipzig had previously said in the program: “The Internet is not a legal vacuum, but the Internet is often a legal vacuum. Criminal offenses are committed but we do not prosecute or punish the perpetrators.” Criminal prosecution is a state matter in Germany. Hoven: “That can lead to very different results in the investigation.” As Böhmermann’s experiment clearly showed: Whether and how intensively investigations are carried out depends on the federal state in which a complaint is filed.

In the case of a racist Facebook post, this was illustrated in a particularly bizarre way: in Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Brandenburg, the ad and all the others were also not even accepted. In Bremen, a “failed computer system” allegedly prevented the ad from being recorded. The consequence after nine months: the public prosecutor’s office is now investigating the revelations of “ZDF Magazin Royale” – but against the Bremen police! The accusation: possible thwarting of criminal prosecution in office, internal investigations have been started, the police officer has disciplinary proceedings to deal with.

Other departments found it extremely difficult to find out the real name of the hate poster. “Our specialists found that out in 30 seconds on Facebook in a very time-consuming investigative research,” Böhmermann scoffs. After all, it worked in seven federal states. “Here the police can apparently access and read Facebook on their service computers,” said Böhmermann.

Jan Böhmermann with a new police song

But overall, online policing was extremely disappointing. “I have a reasonable suspicion that the German police can’t do anything on the Internet,” Böhmermann commented on the outcome of the experiment. Hardly any relevant information to be found in Neuland. “It gets you down: as a citizen and as the chairman of the German police union,” said the moderator and began to sing. In “The police is not on the internet” he didn’t rap like in “I have the police” (2016), his song was more of a folksy hit song for critical swaying along.

The text had it all: “There is a place where no patrol car stops / come to Germany’s largest dark field” or “In the Darknet all the Jew hatred / Darknet, huh? Where is that?” summed up the whole dilemma once more. All research results for the experiment can of course be found online: on the tatü website. If you click on this, you will also see the error message 404: All Cops are busy. A rogue who thinks evil of it.

Jan Böhmermann said goodbye to the break with the words “Everyone except our legal department is on summer vacation”. At the beginning of September we will continue with the “ZDF Magazin Royale”.