Berlin, 4/15/21: The non-profit organization HateAid is receiving 3.3 million euros in funding from the Alfred Landecker Foundation to launch the Landecker Digital Justice Movement. The program will seek to transform systematic rights violations on the Internet from an apparently private matter into an explicit task that society has a responsibility to respond to.
Traditionally, HateAid experts offer advice and expertise on technical, administrative, and personal issues related to digital violence via chat, email, or in personal conversations, and the problem is substantial. According to a recent study by the Institute for Democracy and Civil Society (IDZ), four out of ten German citizens have already experienced digital violence – this includes various forms of degradation, harassment, discrimination, social isolation and coercion of other people on the Internet and with the help of electronic means of communication. However, such incidents rarely make it to court: the legal battle against financially powerful digital platforms is not something that can be managed by private individuals.
Today, social media in particular is more effective than traditional information distribution and plays a decisive role in shaping public opinion. But unlike classic media companies, the global platforms have so far not been committed to the principles of a democratic society and they are not obliged to support those affected by digital violence.
The Landecker Digital Justice Movement initiative will support victims of digital violence via three main routes:
Lobbying legislation at the EU level
Creating legal precedents: Assumption of legal costs for lawsuits against digital violence in Germany, thus setting legal precedents for strengthening democratic values
Raising awareness of the rights of victims of digital violence, thus creating further pressure for action
Since 2018, the organisation has been demanding that digital platforms take a stand against hate speech, defamation or violation of personal rights. With the funding from the Alfred Landecker Foundation, HateAid will now lend further weight to its own demands at the EU legislative level, in court, and in public.
Bringing the perspective of those affected by digital violence into the focus of new laws
In the future, HateAid wants to position individuals’ rights as the focus of EU legislation and, in particular, legally require platforms to actively help foster a democratic digital space. The first milestone in this regard is the Digital Services Act (DSA).
"The DSA could change the digital world for the better in the long term, but it still offers online providers a great deal of leeway, especially when it comes to moderating and deleting content," says HateAid CEO Anna-Lena von Hodenberg.
The DSA demands that online platforms establish complaint channels and redress procedures for out-of-court dispute resolution, as well as cooperate with trusted whistleblowers in order to improve measures against reporting abuse.
"For a real improvement of the situation for those affected, however, it is essential that we include their perspective. With the Landecker Digital Justice Movement, we want to make digital platforms a safe and democratic place where freedom of expression and diversity of opinion are legally guaranteed – without fear of hate, discrimination and violence."
Illuminating legal gray areas, defining rules of the game for the benefit of users
For the first time, the funding will also enable HateAid to finance lawsuits against the major digital platforms. New court rulings will clarify previously unresolved legal issues, aiming to set precedents, so that digital platforms are forced to act.
"It's important to us to resolve this David versus Goliath situation and we want to protect users from digital violence. Fundamentally, our mission is to restore freedom of expression and diversity of opinion on social platforms," von Hodenberg said.
"Of course, users need to know about this development, just as they need to know about the decisions currently being prepared in Brussels. We are therefore planning high-profile awareness campaigns to better inform users and show them their rights online in a transparent way."
Dr. Andreas Eberhardt, founding director and CEO of the Alfred Landecker Foundation: "The future of democracy will be decided online. Only if individuals enjoy the same protection in digital spaces as in the analog world can open societies continue to exist. With the Landecker Digital Justice Movement, HateAid aims to redress the current imbalance between platforms and users and provide unprecedented support for those affected by hate speech."