I often read the reader comments on the online editions of American, UK and German news outlets. Sometimes the comments are thoughtful, even informative, but most are simply snark and invective. However, I find the comments on the German media sites especially vicious. In particular, any article or opinion piece dealing with NATO, the United States, Russia or the Ukraine crisis is sure to elicit the most vile and offensive comments. To be sure, some of these comments are contributed by the Russian troll factories. But most are certainly coming from German readers who are influenced by the many conspiracy sites that dismiss the entire mainstream media in Germany as Lügenpresse - a term used by the Nazis. A book by the fake journalist Udo Ulfkotte - Gekaufte Journalisten - in which he accuses the German press of being in the pocket of the CIA became a number one bestseller in Germany.
The result of this poisoned atmosphere is described in detail by Götz Hamann in Die Zeit:
Die Botschaft könnte vom "Islamischen Staat" stammen: "Man möge ihm die Hände mehrfach brechen oder gleich abhacken." Doch sie stammt nicht vom IS, sondern von einem deutschen Bürger, einem Leser. Er erging sich in Verstümmelungsfantasien, weil er sich über einen Text von Steffen Dobbert geärgert hatte. Dobbert, Redakteur bei ZEIT ONLINE, hatte über Russlands Präsidenten Wladimir Putin geschrieben.
(The message could have come from the Islamic State: "I wish someone would break his hands repeatedly, or just chop them off." But it wasn't from ISIS; it was from a German citizen, a reader. He reveled in his fantasies of mutilation because he was angry about a piece Steffen Dobbert had written. Dobbert, an editor of Die Zeit Online had written about Russia's president Vladimir Putin.)
Es kommt sogar vor, dass einer Journalistin mit dem Tod gedroht wird. Nachdem Ronja von Rönne in der Welt einen Essay über den organisierten Feminismus geschrieben hatte, richtete der Frankfurter Pfarrer Hans-Christoph Stoodt die Worte an sie: "Adel ist was für die Laterne. Ça ira, von Rönne." Der Theologe spielte damit auf ein französisches Revolutionslied an, das von dem Wunsch handelt, der Adel möge verrecken, sei es am Baum, sei es auf dem Schafott. Beim Cybermobbing, so der Medienwissenschaftler Burkhardt, gehe es dem Angreifer stets darum, den Betroffenen "durch öffentliche Isolation symbolisch zu töten".
(It also happens that a journalist is threatened with death. After Ronja von Roenne wrote an essay in Die Welt about organized feminism, a priest in Frankfurt - Hans-Christoph Stoodt commented: "Aristocracy belong on the lanterns. Ca ira, von Roenne." The theologian was referring to a song from the French Revolution, which expressed the desire that the aristocracy would be wiped out - hung from a tree or the scaffold. According toe the media researcher Burkhardt, cyber-bullying has the goal of "symbolically killing"the affected party by public isolation.")
But maybe it's not always "symbolic" killing. Recently some journalists in Dortmund received death notices from neo-Nazis, and their private addresses were made public in the hope that they would be harassed - or worse. '
On a personal note, I am not a journalist but I was recently "cyber-bullied" by Albrecht Müller - publisher of the anti-American conspiracy site NachDenkSeiten - when he published my name, address, telephone number and e-mail address - in clear violation of the German Privacy Law (Bundesdatenschutzgesetz). So far, I haven't received any death threats - Sorry, Herr Müller.