What do you think about self righteousness

Justice and self-righteousness in online debates

Dear readers,

You often campaign for justice with your letters to the editor, as can be seen again and again in the print reader forum. They don't just want to accept the world with its many injustices. As an individual, however, you don't have many opportunities to do something about these injustices. You can get involved politically or in aid organizations, you can donate, you can vote every few years - and you can try to have a say. This is the driving force behind many debates on the Internet.

But such online debates in particular often have a bad reputation, and many people have distanced themselves from this opportunity to participate - be it because many participants only post under the protection of anonymity, or because of the sometimes harsh tone that prevails there, or because of the perception that unpopular opinions should be suppressed. Journalists are also feeling this.

Book and letters to the editor Werner Engelmann and I want to talk about this phenomenon in the FR blog from today. Mr. Engelmann has documented and analyzed various online debates that were held during the Ukraine and Crimean crises in various forums, for example on faz.net. We want to take a closer look at this communication behavior. You are cordially invited to take part.

To warm you up here is a guest post by Werner Engelmann:


Internet forums and communicative behavior

New inventions, especially in the communicative area, are fascinating, affect the behavior of many people and change it. The invention of the printing press enabled the spread of humanism and the Reformation and revolutionized the thinking of the time. The fascination of the newly emerged radio for the spread of fascism should not be underestimated: a single person had a direct impact on the masses, hypnotizing them. Not differently later when watching TV.

At the same time, however, the experience of mass influencing aroused criticism and counter-movements, particularly evident in the 1968 movement, such as the anti-Springer campaign: They saw the reader or listener as a helpless victim of propaganda and manipulation.

And what about the internet and its impact? - At first this trend seems to continue worldwide. For example, Obama's success in the first presidential election was largely based on perfect use of the new media for his election campaign. At the same time, however, the Internet is causing fundamental changes in the relationship between readers and media producers, the scope of which is still barely understood: For the first time, decentralized counter-forces are emerging on a large scale through intercommunication in Internet forums and social media, teaching - as in the "Arab Spring" - even totalitarian ruling potentates fear. There is no longer a monopoly of opinion, and in Internet forums, the former one-sided dependence of the consumer on media makers has turned into a two-way dialogue.

So has the danger of manipulation by media power been averted and the way paved for the democratic exchange of opinions? - The experiences of journalists in Internet forums speak a completely different language. For example, FR editor Katja Thorwarth complained in a column on July 28, 2014 about hate mail and media bashing and gave numerous examples of verbal omissions by forists. One would think that this must arouse consternation and indignation among readers. - Instead, the columnist is scorned and scorned. 60% of the commentators see the reasons for verbal failures in "media synchronization" and "censorship". It hits Faz.net even worse (Andrea Diener, “Meine Tage im Hass”, Faz, July 11, 2014, online for a fee). Here, 82 percent are of the same opinion.

The reasons often reveal a tendency of the commentators to arrogance, contempt and blanket judgment: “Media as a tool for opinion making and manipulation.” “That is a fact! There is no freedom of expression in this FRG. ”-“ You practice corporate journalism, actually you have lost your right to your job. ”-“ Mostly only USA and NATO propaganda. That although every common sense knows that the USA is generally lying. "-" Now they are crying again. "-" Fascism is coming back. "

Such comments make it clear: This new form of “media bashing” says little about the German media landscape, but all the more about the defaults and mentality of the commentators themselves. These are not even the mentioned verbal failures themselves, but rather - comparatively moderate - Comments on this. As an ideological justification, however, they represent the environment from which hate mail and abuse orgies grow. And they don't just hit journalists. This has long been customary for political representatives, especially the EU (above all Martin Schulz).

Where does this aggressiveness come from? - In addition to approaches based on communication theory, this also requires a psychological consideration. An approach to this is offered by a comment on Katja Thorwarth's column: “Wow, my left-wing talk is mentioned in an article. I'm always proud when I make barrels overflow. ”Here it becomes clear: The expectation of a helpless reaction to the provocation satisfies aggressive instincts of power. Journalists have become symbols of a supposedly opinion-suppressing power. Now the tables are being turned around. And to see the "manipulators" in the role of victim gives thieving pleasure.

Behavioral biology speaks of “individual distance” when it comes to instinctively avoiding excessive proximity in certain animals (such as birds on telegraph wires). For people, this corresponds to the “intimate distance”, according to the anthropologist Edward T. Hall, “the area in which only those who are tolerated by him are allowed to approach.” (Wikipedia). The expression “offending someone” makes it clear that this is also to be understood in a figurative sense: it serves to protect one's own moral integrity. The aim of such verbal provocations is obviously to deliberately hurt them, thereby evoking aggressive feelings. Anonymity and media distance also allow the desired effects to be observed safely and with relish from the sofa at home.

The way Internet communication works is therefore ambivalent: On the one hand, it enormously expands the possibilities for information, potentially promotes mutual communication based on partnership, and enables the user to be emancipated from one-sided media power. On the other hand, however, it also harbors - if this is not stopped - the danger of lowering the inhibition threshold for aggressiveness and promoting mental brutality - comparable, for example, to the lowering of the inhibition of killing by ranged weapons. It also has anti-civilizing elements inherent in it. The horrific execution scenes recently posted on the Internet by ISIS terrorists suggest that this could lead to a return to barbarism.

According to Habermas, the communicative rationality assumed in language forms the basis of social action. In the Internet age, we seem further removed than ever from such “communicative rationality”.

And it is more urgent than ever to understand internet communication as a global challenge. Not only for media professionals who have to learn anew, not only to recognize the control created by social media and internet forums, but also to use it productively. It is also a challenge for society as a whole to effectively counter the inherent destructive possibilities and tendencies.


It starts on Wednesday, October 15th!


PS: It was quite difficult to fix this date. That's why I was only able to communicate it for a short time. To make matters worse, I have changed my Internet provider. Didn't think that it could lead to such complications. In plain language: I can't work from home at the moment and I don't know exactly when it will be possible again. But I will try to compensate for the restrictions that are placed on me in conducting this talk with a few small devices. It can therefore happen that I ask several questions initially en bloc and later, when I have unrestricted internet access again, unravel them afterwards.

The comment activation is therefore unmoderated. I would like to urge all participants to observe the rules of the FR blog, as I do not want to return to moderation.

PPS: Werner Engelmann and I don't know each other personally, but only through our e-mail dealing with letters to the editor. We moved on to the more casual you a long time ago. I would like to keep this you in our blog talk.

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