An invitation-only Facebook group named Glorious Bastards is taking down the social network’s hatemongers. The vigilantes have already gotten one teenager fired from his job for an anti-migrant comment.
The weeks-old group first drew attention when a 17-year-old apprentice at Porsche posted a comment under the picture of a young Syrian girl playing in a spray of water. The picture was originally posted July 21 on the Facebook page of the popular radio station Kronehit, which has more than 452,000 likes.
“Flamethrowers would be a better solution,” the teenager, an automotive technician apprentice at the automaker Porsche, had written. After members of the Glorious Bastards informed the teen’s employer, he lost his job and posted a public apology on Facebook.
“We reject any form of discrimination,” a spokesman for Porsche told the Kurier newspaper. “This incident obliged us to act.”
Though most users cannot find the secret group in a standard Facebook search, the Glorious Bastards have already signed up 300 members and collected more than 80 postings since their founding in mid-July. Membership is contingent on an invitation, after potential recruits undergo a background check.
“We track down the hate posts,” a member of the Glorious Bastards told the Austrian newspaper Heute, “show them how it violates constitutional protections, and inform their employer.” Any serious offenses are also reported to the authorities, he added.
In early July, Austria’s National Council passed a new law making it illegal to incite or commit hate speech against foreigners and minorities in front of more than 30 people, including in online forums.
Those found guilty of such speech can face up to five years in jail. Previously it was illegal to defame people of certain origins or nationalities in front of more than 150 people, but not “foreigners” in general. There is also a provision to guard against distributing hateful “images or texts.”
‘Normalizing hate speech’
Social media has changed the way people communicate, said Zakia Akkouh, a project coordinator at Norway’s European Wergeland Centre, which provides resources for educators and politicians looking to improve cross-cultural relations.
“In Europe, for starters, we see this development in the political discourse and increased support to far-right movements is changing, and normalizing hate speech against specific groups in society, such as Roma people or LGBT people,” Akkouh told DW.
“Social media is also contributing to normalizing bullying and hate speech,” Akkouh said, “because we still have this artificial divide of what we allow ourselves to say online versus offline.”