Digital Democracy

The internet offers many opportunities – also for democracy. Thanks to online petitions and digital elections, it is becoming easier to form an opinion and become politically active. But unfortunately, it has also become just as easy to manipulate the opinions of others – hate speech and fake news spread quickly on the internet and endanger today’s democracy.

Please find the facilitator‘s guide for this 90-min workshop here.

Other versions of the workshop are 45 min and 25 min in length.


Freedom of expression

According to the “Charter of fundamental rights of the Europe Union” everyone has the right to freedom of expression. But that does not mean that we are allowed to say everything. The freedom of expression ends where other people’s rights are violated.

In companies or groups in social networks, other rules may apply – e.g. “Only available apartments are posted in this group” or “We only use this program to exchange information about work”. In these cases, the operators decide which contributions are deleted under which circumstances.

Freedom of the media

(Charter of the fundamental rights of the European Union, Article 11).

The media and press are currently subject to many prejudices – “lying press” and “fake news” are only some of them. But journalistic work is indispensable – because most journalists have opportunities that other citizens do not have. They can double-check, inquire and research things. They can uncover wrongdoings and make them public. In many countries journalists are allowed to report on anything that does not restrict the rights of others. But there are also countries where this freedom of the media is limited. Journalists are not allowed to draw attention to problems, their articles are censored or they must fear for their lives.

Learn more about this in the Darknet module.

A legal vacuum – yes or no?

Digital democracy is an important part of democracy.
When we talk about democracy, we talk about our rights and duties as citizens. There are many misunderstandings about freedom of expression. For example: Do these laws also apply to the internet? The problem here is that the legal situation can only be partially transferred to the digital world.

Some legislation, e.g. the “Grundgesetz” (Basic Constitutional Law) was written in times when the digital world was far away. Nevertheless, the internet is not a legal vacuum.

Forming an opinion vs. Manipulating an opinion

Forming an opinion means weighing up different opinions and then, with the help of this knowledge, forming your own opinion. Forming an opinion is seen as a neutral or positive away of finding your own opinion. On the other hand, there is the manipulation of opinions, which can be defined as the attempted to influence the opinions of others. The term “populism” is closely connected to this. In populism, beliefs are often expressed in an over-dramatic manner, people are told what they want to hear, and simple answers are given to very complex questions.


When using repetition as a method of manipulation, information is not substantiated by facts, but repeated over and over again via different channels (e.g. social networks). If fake news turns up again and again on the Internet, there is a high risk that many will perceive it as true – “If everyone says that there is something to it, then it must be true!”

Powerful allies

A lot of misinformation is believed because it is spread by powerful people. This can be politicians, but also other famous or well-known people. As soon as information is linked to a famous face, its credibility increases in the eyes of many.


Through the use of generalization, social problems are talked about in such a way that they appear trivial or contrived. However, the authors do not use facts as a reference, but rather link the problems to individual cases – they generalize them. Here is an example: An employee of a large fashion brand steals from a customer. Generalization: Scandal! Theft amongst employees of the fashion brand XY.

Language abuse

Words have power – In order to assert their personal opinion, many people use a language that belittles the opposing opinion. One example for this is the reaction to young activists publicly committed to shaping the future. Opponents of these activists describe their commitment as “political child abuse”, among other things. Negative words such as “abuse” have an unconscious effect on listeners and influence their opinions.

Silencing others

One means of influencing opinions is to silence other opinions. This is called “silencing”. People are sometimes silenced by being massively threatened and insulted, particularly in social networks. Many of these people then withdraw and no longer want to reveal their opinions publicly.

Inciting fear

Deliberate misinformation undermines the trust in our governments or the media. Statements such as “Lügen Presse” (“lying press”) convey the idea that citizens can no longer trust the information in newspapers or on television. This also deliberately fuels fears, e.g. of terrorist attacks.

Leave no doubt

Much false information is written so that there is no doubt about the accuracy of the statement. The authors also do not shy away from unfair methods: In order to support the credibility of their statements, they invent or lie about their alleged “facts”.

Stay on the offence

With many people, especially in social networks, discussion is impossible. The people in question argue even harder or do not respond to questions as soon as they are asked about their opinion. Here is how to react: Only engage in a discussion if the other party is also prepared to discuss.

Concealing facts

A citizen can only obtain a clear overview if he knows what is going on. That is why facts are often concealed when propaganda is used to influence opinions. If important information is missing, this is called “disinformation” – what people do not know cannot hurt them.

Hate speech

Hate speech describes the politically motivated dissemination of hateful statements or messages. The desired effect is called “silencing” and means that dissenters are silenced by massive hatred, for example as a comment on a post in social media. For example, many female politicians receive terrible threats with promises of sexual violence.

Hate speech can also be used to discriminate against specific groups of people. Again, the point is that the person towards whom the hate speech is directed no longer wishes to express himself because he feels intimidated or does not want to attract further hatred.

Fake news

Fake news is false information that is hard to distinguish from real news. Fake news is also used to manipulate opinions: Lying becomes a political strategy. Fake news is often considered to be true and is shared and spread. Unfortunately, fake news is still considered true by many even if it is refuted.

Find more about this in the video.

Fact check

During a fact check, statements from for example, social media are checked for their correctness on the basis of verifiable and objective sources. Fact checks can have a positive effect on the reduction of fake news. This is shown in a study by political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler. They divided politicians into three groups.

Group 1 received a letter clearly stating that fact checks would be used in election campaigns.
Group 2 received a letter with a vague reference to fact checks.
Group 3 served as a control group and received no letter.

Results of the study show: Politicians who believed that fact checks would be used in election campaigns made much more moderate statements than those who did not know about the alleged fact checks.

Media competence

We have to learn to deal with social media ourselves instead of calling for laws and politics to exercise censorship!  But that also means that we have to understand what lies behind digital phenomena, from netiquette, the rules of the Internet to how algorithms work and filter bubbles develop. The modules in #DABEI Geschichten do just that! Teachtoday is suitable for kids and their adult caregivers.

Democracy competence

A lively exchange of different opinions and views is important for a democracy. The ability to discuss or argue without hatred or violence is part of a citizen’s democracy competence – as is participation in elections and the ability to critically question opinions.


Anyone can report things they do not like on the net.
Many social media platforms offer the possibility to report things very easily.
Due to the “Network Enforcement Act”, you can also report things to all social media site operators, e.g. directly to facebook. Criminal offences such as incitement to hatred, can of course also be reported at every police station.

Your opinion counts

Digital democracy is an important part of democracy. The internet in particular offers many new opportunities: more transparency, more participation and more opportunities to form political opinions. On the other hand, digital phenomena such as hate speech and political opinion manipulation are becoming more and more widespread. In this module you have been given numerous tips on how to counteract this.