re:view – Politics & Society: We have to create new spaces

How do you actually navigate the darknet? And since when has the internet become a space for finished and predefined thoughts, instead of a platform for discussing controversial topics? The “Politics & Society” track delivered all kinds of answers over the course of 150 sessions during re:publica 2017.

Digital spaces that allow for controversial concepts are necessary, according to Kübra Gümüsay. Every one of us should get back to promoting new topics of discussion, instead of simply responding to, and thereby following the lead of, the far right. “We spent weeks discussing Afro-German and African immigrant neighbours, in response to one comment from a politician. In talk show after talk show, we gave answers to the most absurd questions. This is not a normal state of being”, stated Gümüsay, “but rather a shameful indictment of our current society.” For her, the internet used to be a place where she could exchange and develop ideas. Today, it’s simply a platform for presenting predefined thoughts and positions.

A time without hashtags and social media has long gone. This has finally even made its way to the police: In Germany, there are currently 219 police accounts on Facebook, Twitter & co. This is fairly low in comparison to other countries – the Netherlands can boast a whole 2,500 police-run social media accounts – but the trend in Germany is pointing upwards. André Karsten works in the press office for the Frankfurt police and doesn’t just use his reach for online laughs: “The trick is to be taken seriously”, he says. “Is there going to be a demonstration on Saturday? No one’s going to buy it if you just post fun posts all week and then get serious all of the sudden”, according to Karsten.

In the “Darknet – The Internet of the Future?” session, Andreas May from the Frankfurt Attorney General’s office said that, from his point of view, it was entirely unsuspicious for people to use the Tor browser. Nobody needs to be worried about ending up under police surveillance just for using the browser, let alone be afraid for their private data. This statement from May was greeted with boos from the sceptical audience. And that’s far too little scepticism if you ask Daniel Moßbrucker from “Reporters Without Borders” (RSF). People are misinformed and naive, still far too caught up in the idea of “I've got nothing to hide”, and missing the importance and sensitivity for the subject of data encryption.

A blessing in disguise for journalists Simon Hurtz (Süddeutsche Zeitung) and Kai Biermann (ZEIT): They both took their teams and paid a visit to people who don’t seem to care if their online orders of weapons are being traced. The so-called “Anonymous.Kollektiv” and the “Migrantenschreck” (Migrant Shock) online shop have spent the last years using far-right agitation to call on people to arm themselves with semi-automatic and automatic firearms to protect themselves against refugees. “When you realise that people are prepared to spend 700 Euro for a firearm, then you realise that something has happened to change that person, something bad”, said Biermann.

What kind of risk does a small-time dealer run of being caught on the darknet if they’re only selling soft drugs? This question from the audience was answered during the session on the future of the darknet without giving anyone carte blanche: First and foremost, investigators are looking for sellers and customers offering content and committing serious violations of the law. However, drug dealers who occasionally sell cannabis still aren’t operating under the radar.

Of course, these weren’t the only topics in the Politics & Society track at #rp17. You can find an overview of all the panel discussions, talks, meetups and workshops – from Sascha Lobo, Caroline Sinders to a dialogue about internet politics here. Video and audio clips can be found in the respective sessions or directly in the audio archive or on YouTube

by Theresa Liebig (EJS)

Photo credit: re:publica/Jan Michalko(CC BY-SA 2.0)