It’s been three weeks since the Green Party selected its first candidate for Chancellor in the September 26 national election, 40 year old Annalena Baerbock.
In this period Ms. Baerbock has become a prime media target for misogyny, vitriol, and fake news. These attacks are directed at a woman whose election would propel the Green Party to the pinacle of power in Europe. An idea unthinkable when the Greens came onto the German political scene in the 1980’s as a militant environmentalist party co-founded by the late Petra Kelly.
Excerpted from Deutsche Welle 5.10.2021
It’s been barely three weeks since Annalena Baerbock was nominated as the Green party’s chancellor candidate. But it took only a matter of hours after her nomination on April 19 for disinformation and hate about her to begin spreading like wildfire online.
Green party election campaign leader Michael Kellner says the hate and fake reports have taken on a “completely new dimension.”
Experts warn that the wave of targeted hate and disinformation that has spread about Baerbock is only the tip of the iceberg ahead of September’s general election.
Who’s behind the disinformation and hate?
At the moment two main groups have their eye on Baerbock, says Hillje. One is a far-right network made up of populists and extremists. The second is pro-Russian, he says, pointing to Baerbock’s criticism of Moscow, and the Green party’s wish to end the construction of Nord Stream 2, the controversial gas pipeline between Russia and Germany.
“It wasn’t the increase in fake content and hate that surprised us. It was the sheer speed and extent,” says Josephine Ballon, head of legal at HateAid, Germany’s only advice center that only supports people affected by digital violence. “What’s unfolding is gender-specific hate,” she told DW. ”This kind of hate seeks to discredit and silence the target.”
Misogynistic hate online is nothing new. A study by German magazine Der Spiegel in February found that 69% of female members of parliament in Germany had experienced “misogynistic hatred as members of the Bundestag.”
While 64% said they’ve received messages — mostly online, but also by post — some 36% have experienced physical “attacks on themselves, their offices or their home.”
“Hate against women online is significantly stronger and has a different quality from hate and disinformation about heterosexual white men,” says Ballon.
“The fake content spread about women is often more sexualized. And the spectrum is broad, starting from comments about someone’s appearance, their gender, their sexuality, to threats of sexual abuse.”
Since her nomination, Baerbock has been the target of sexualized hate and baseless claims. There have been slurs about her appearance, there were bogus claims like Baerbock calling for an abolition of pets to combat climate change. And there was a fake nude photo of Baerbock, that was really the picture of a young Russian porn star with a vague resemblance to the German politician.
All this was circulated in a bid to discredit Baerbock, who’s currently polling as the most popular candidate to replace Merkel.
“What we’re seeing right now was unfortunately not unexpected,” says political and communications adviser Johannes Hillje. “Next to conspiracy tales, Islamophobia, and anti-migration sentiment … misogyny is a key part of the ideology of the groups who create and spread this kind of content.”
For the new far-right scene, Baerbock is the new Merkel,” Hillje says. Baerbock has quickly risen in popularity ratings and is politically further to the left than Merkel. “As a female, successful, liberal politician, Baerbock meets a lot of the criteria of their classic image of ‘the enemy.’