What we feel, do and think is shaped by our social environment. We want to belong and are willing to accept things from friends and acquaintances that we don't necessarily stand behind. This also applies to liking posts and sharing content. Sympathy with the person who posts and the group from which it happens is sometimes more important than the content. We only read the headline and the sender and decide about good and not good. The question: "Are you for us or against us?" is sometimes more important than dealing with the post and its content itself.
In recent years, new forms of exclusion, discrimination, xenophobia, intolerance, propaganda and misinformation have developed on the web worldwide. A mass of extremism, radicalism and populism can be found in comment columns and on social networks. Overall, the tone in comment columns and social networks has become harsher and filled with false reports as well as hate speech.
But it is not only xenophobic groups or Internet trolls that use digital media to exclude or defame people and thus endanger democracy. Hate against individuals, bullying, has also shifted to the digital world and taken on a new dimension.
According to the german "JIM Study," 37 percent of 12- to 19-year-olds say that someone in their circle of acquaintances has already been cyberbullied. The older the young people are, the higher the proportion of those who have already experienced such a case, according to the study.
The brutalization that has become apparent in recent years in social networks through hate speech and cyberbullying can affect everyone, but it primarily affects the weaker and those who belong to a marginalized group. But this brutalization does not emanate from a majority of Internet users. "Rather, those who have a different opinion have withdrawn," as net activist Markus Beckedahl explains in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio. Far too often, those who are not affected remain passive: hostilities remain visible and uncommented on. People look the other way, and far too rarely defend those affected or address the perpetrators about their behavior.
If hatred, hostility and lies have become increasingly evident in digital life in recent years, how can we respond appropriately? It is important that a democratic society, in which human dignity is enshrined in the first article of the Basic Law and which guarantees the same rights to people regardless of characteristics such as origin, gender or age, is committed to combating exclusion and intolerance in the digital world.
The rapid development shows that democratic values and peaceful coexistence are not simply a given. This makes it all the more important for every individual to actively stand up for these principles. What is needed is civil courage that takes fairness, tolerance and mutual consideration into account in the digital world as well and shows solidarity with dissidents and minorities - a digital civil courage!
For the social climate in the digital world to improve, it needs people who take responsibility and are willing to stand up for others. Showing empathy openly and offering support to those affected, whether in the case of hate speech or cyberbullying, is enormously important. After all, those who are affected by it often feel their self-esteem lowered and isolated by such attacks. The silence of fellow readers is almost as hurtful as the hate itself.
That is why empathy is an important prerequisite for civil courage. It is just as relevant as questioning one's own actions and treating other opinions with respect. Although in most cases of resistance there are no consequences for the brave person, only a few react. Those reading along, so-called bystanders, state that they do not know what really helps and what can be done at all.
In the supposed anonymity of the digital world, it is important to actively support those affected by hostility. In an online discussion, this can be a like, a positive comment or the claim to confront or report an attacker if necessary. Few people know that the police are just as responsible for assaults in the digital world as they are in the analog world.
In both the digital and the analog world, civil courage and commitment start in small ways, whether at school, at the sports club, at work or in the chat group. How we express ourselves and behave always influences our social environment. On the net, the hater is far too often not answered or a comment is made in return. However, the goal should be to get the silent fellow readers, who often haven't even formed an opinion yet, to think about it and offer them an alternative for their actions - moral courage.