Interview with Stefan Glaser of (youth was created by the state Ministries for Youth Protection as a place to ensure that the laws and guidelines for youth protection are heeded in the new information and communication services (multimedia, internet). wants people who make material endangering young people available online to voluntarily remove it from the net or at least change it. We spoke with Stefan Glaser, who with other youth protectors carried out a study on far-right internet sites.

What led to this study of far-right material on the internet?

Since the spring of 2000, has carried out a total of 3 projects on issues related to right-wing extremism on the internet. There have been far-right websites with neo-Nazi or racist material on the net for quite some time – they generally fall into one of two categories: sites created by far-right political parties or the »classic« revisionist sites. The first study was inspired by the realization that there were, in addition to these »traditional« websites, a new kind of site that had moved beyond the earlier text-heavy and generally pretty boring sites. These newer sites are organized to appeal to young people’s viewing and communication habits, and connect far-right propaganda in written and graphic form with the latest technology, for example flash animations and elements of youth culture like music files and game downloads, or specific communication services like chats, guest books or forums.

The new type of presentation – neo-Nazi propaganda in modern multimedia packaging – inspired to take a closer look at the far-right youth scene and developments in this area. So we weren’t inspired by current political developments or trends, but rather by the realization that a spectrum of far-right internet sites had developed which, seen from the perspective of youth protection, is rather explosive.

How did you proceed? Were young people asked which sites they used or was the research based on already well-known sites?

While we were working on the first project at the beginning of 2000, we acquired relevant internet addresses in two ways: we conducted written and spoken surveys with young people and also analyzed the proxy caches and history lists of the computers in youth facilities. The aim of this first analysis was not to perform a scientific investigation on a grand scale, but to find out what sites young people were using as bridges to the larger far-right internet community. We then looked through these sites’ guest books and forums for other obviously far-right sites. In the end, we had a database of 400-500 German-language far-right websites, which we used as the source of further qualitative analyses.

Are far-right internet sites easy to find?

As a rule, far-right websites do not advertise like, say, pornography sites, with banners or pop-ups. People who want to visit sites like these have to look for them deliberately. They do this with the help of search engines; many addresses are also just common knowledge among young people and get passed on through word of mouth. Once the “starter site” has been found, it’s easy to move on via link lists, guest books, forums or top lists to other websites on the far-right sub-net.

What’s your evaluation of far-right sites on offer in the net?

It’s difficult to make a quantitative estimation of how many far-right sites are online. In its last report, the German federal Office for the Defense of the Constitution (ODC, translator’s acronym) assumed a figure of more than 3000 websites worldwide, about 1000 of which are German-language sites. In our experience, however, it is very difficult to estimate the exact number of sites with far-right material – it’s really only possible to make a rough estimate. The reason for this is the great fluctuation and variability of the sites on offer, i.e. the fact that site operators switch providers (and thereby change URLs) or use forwarding services. Furthermore, most sites have several different locations on the net, which leads to the ability to access the same site at different addresses. As far as a qualitative analysis goes, I can say that most of the sites that we looked at openly conduct neo-Nazi propaganda. It is precisely the combination of racist attitudes and a modern, multimedia and appealing presentation that make these pages particularly explosive. Youthful expressions; the appeal of forbidden fruit or the rejection of prevalent values, thought patterns and forms of behaviour; the concrete offer of inclusion into an independent, racist or neo-Nazi world view – all of these elements can be especially attractive for young people. Particularly the wide variety of music downloads and far-right games can function as door openers for or to far-right groups.

Are the majority of sites operated by private people or by far-right organizations and parties?

The majority of the sites that we saw and analyzed were, in our opinion, operated by private people without commercial interests. It is often noticeable, however, that there is a connection to far-right parties like the NPD or, especially in recent times, to “freie Kameradschaften” (“free fellowships”, or loosely organized neo-Nazi groups). There are in addition, of course, numerous websites from far-right bands, publishers, mail-order companies and similar organizations.

What noticeable differences are there between “private” sites and those of far-right organizations and political parties?

As a rule, the party sites are text-heavier than those created by the far-right youth movement. Another point to note is that websites that are affiliated with existing organizations, and therefore with legally prosecutable people, do not cross the criminal line as regards content or symbolism. They do not make unambiguously seditious or similar statements; nor do they use forbidden symbols. This restriction does not apply to private people, who operate their sites anonymously, for example via free servers outside of Germany.

Is it clear what the site providers’ aims are?

It is also true of far-right site providers that the web is primarily a platform for self-portrayal. They use it as a podium for the propagation their own attitudes and opinions. In many cases, they also use the net for agitation purposes. The far-right Kameradschaften in particular are increasingly trying to mobilize far-right internet users for marches and demonstrations, or for membership and work in their own groups in real life.

It is possible to tell how often individual sites are used?

Only the website operator or host provider can give real and precise figures regarding usage. Some sites do have online counters integrated onto their homepages, but as these can be manipulated, they are only of limited use in determining real frequency figures. Entries in guest books and forums are useful indications. Websites that have a lot of current postings can be assumed to be among the most frequently visited sites in the far-right internet scene. In order to determine who uses which far-right sites, a longer-term field study in the form of a user analysis would have to be carried out.

Experience in media education work with young people indicates that the sites are of great importance primarily in the far-right culture, at least initially.

How is the effect of the sites on young people evaluated?

There has not been a significant study among young people in this area either. The majority of sites that we analyzed are professionally designed with modern features and appeal to young people’s viewing and communication habits. A site’s attractiveness is proportional to what it offers users, be it information or free tools and programs. Downloads of far-right music and games, or interactive features like chat rooms, guest books and forums are standard features of modern websites and naturally increase the attractiveness of far-right websites. There are, in additional, several revisionist sites that propagate historically falsified perspectives on National Socialism, hidden behind a serious-looking pseudo-scientific veneer. Some examples of the misinformation published on these sites include the legend of a world-wide Jewish conspiracy and Holocaust denial. This a real problem when young people do internet research for, say, school projects, and find the sites in a search engine’s results list. At first glance, unpracticed readers don’t always recognize the website for the revisionist distortion of history that it is and are in danger of being misinformed.

Why is the study limited to young people? Do far-right websites have less of an influence on adults?

As youth, it is our mission to work for effective youth protection on the internet and to test out model ways of achieving this. In the area of far-right websites, our first question was of course what sites were potentially dangerous for young people. This does not mean, however, that right-wing extremism is a youth phenomenon, or can be reduced to a problem of the younger generation. Far-right attitudes and thought patterns can be found at all age levels and in all social classes. Similarly, the phenomenon of right-wing extremism cannot be attributed to a single cause. As regards racism and neo-Nazism, we feel it is important to deny them a platform and breeding ground on the internet. This must be done at all levels.

What counter-strategies would you recommend? How effective can legal bans or technical restrictions like software filters be?

In order to counter-act far-right internet propaganda effectively, a collection of measures are necessary which sensibly connect activities at different levels. As regards technical possibilities, the filters that are currently available cannot guarantee complete protection against material endangering youth on the internet. Until now, most of the effort in the fight against right-wing extremism was expended in prosecuting websites with illegal material. This strategy was effective as long as the propagation of racist ideas in the media could be regulated by German law. But in view of the dynamics and border-crossing structure of the internet, and thereby of various value systems and legal systems, this approach is on the wane. The right to freedom of speech ensures that hate speech is permissible, especially in the USA.

In spite of everything, racism on the web can be opposed – even across borders. In our last two projects, we managed to shut down far-right websites quickly and without undue bureaucracy through direct contact with host providers and other service providers abroad. We informed the respective providers that a far-right website that they were hosting violated their own general contractual agreement – most of them had prohibited the propagation of racist or discriminatory material in their contracts. In most cases, the providers reacted positively and removed the site from their server. It seems to be clear, however, that without cross-border agreement, measures taken in Germany will only be patchwork attempts. In the future, forms of cooperation must be developed between engaged users, antiracist groups, public prosecution offices, providers, search engine operators and other service providers from all relevant countries. Above all, the users themselves need to be more involved in the debate on far-right material on the net. In the internet, too, there are many different ways of showing moral courage. The gaming culture is a good example of how to deal with the far-right on the net. A lot of clan players display anti-Nazi signets in their signatures and a lot of clan sites display banners calling for international understanding and solidarity. Even directly in the game, players use tags to take stands against far-right players and clans. Players have also organized campaigns against far-right statements online and have created various homepages under the motto, »Clans against the Right«, using them to talk about their differences experiences and coordinate counter-measures.

What part can projects on media education and continuing education courses play? What are young people’s reactions to projects like these?

Via debates and critical analyses of racist material on the net, young people in workshops or seminars can be encouraged to stand up against Nazis and for humanity, democracy and human rights. Many young internet users don’t have any counter-arguments that can be used to confront the simple and self-contained world view of far-right ideological criminals. It is often due to a lack of these argumentation skills that Neo-Nazi propaganda is left answered. Media education projects can play their part by preparing young people for such confrontations and by providing them with concrete opportunities to show their colors, as under the motto (also online) »don’t touch my pal«. Young people’s reactions to programs dealing with far-right websites and the material found on them have so far been consistently positive. The action-based approach, i.e. the creative development and implementation of concrete steps against Nazis on the web, is fun and gives the young participants confidence. This is surely not least of all because the main focus is on concrete ways in which individual internet users can defend themselves against far-right propaganda.

Have the study’s results already been published on CD-Rom? If so, where are the CDs available?

The results of our first two studies have been summarized in an educational guide and the first version will be available through the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (German Federal Center for Political Education) in CD form at the end of the year.

Next article: Registering neo-Nazi sites online

Dossier #4: A look at internet projects and initiatives which deal with Nazis on the net in very different ways and in so doing, provide material for a discussion on the various strategies.

  1. Strategies against right-wing extremism on the net
  2. What should be done?
    (Katharina Hamann)
  3. Interview with
  4. Registering neo-Nazi sites online
  5. Students against the Right
  7. Children of the Holocaust
  8. Linklist for this issue
  9. Dates