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#aufschrei: Germany's First Major Twitter Debate

The final presentation in our AoIR 2013 panel is Stine Eckert, whose focus is on the #aufschrei hashtag in the German-language Twittersphere that reacted to the issue of sexual harassment, in January 2013. It was prompted by a number of mainstream media articles about sexism and sexual harassment, from a prominent German politician as well as in other public spaces; as more such examples came to light, the Twitter hashtag #aufschrei was suggested as a means to compile and curate such stories! continuing over several days. The hashtag itself received further mainstream media attention.

How did the #aufschrei debate evolve, then, what links were being shared, and what format did the tweets take? Stine coded some 9,000 #aufschrei tweets, especially finding tweets about the debate, tweets supporting the women reporting these cases, and tweets moving the discussion into other, sometimes off-topic areas as key categories of tweet topics. Tweets about the debate often engaged in meta-discussion about the #aufschrei phenomenon itself, while support tweets expressed their sympathy with the stories shared; at the same time, there were also some misogynist statements, jokes, and other types of responses. Overall, some 44% engaged in debate, media, and political discussion; 33% offered examples and support; 23% contained misogynistic statements and jokes.

Some one quarter of tweets contained links, while 13% were verbatim retweets of previous tweets. Links pointed to media and blog articles; there was a split between social media and mainstream media links being shared. Over the course of the debate, the sharing of examples of sexism declines, and discussion of the debate itself increases instead.

In the process, the visibility of Twitter in Germany (which remains a niche medium) also increased, largely due to the coverage in the mainstream media; this was true for blogs as well. This also meant that the mainstream media explained how these social media themselves worked: for example what hashtags were. Social and mainstream media thus fed back into each other.

The phenomenon also shows that gender remains a highly relevant debate in Germany, and that sexism and sexual harassment remains an important issue. There was also a significant level of backlash against those who started the #aufschrei debate and those who supported it, however - we have not yet moved into a post-feminist paradigm.