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Violent videos on the net: what is criminally allowed

If sharing videos is also a criminal offense

In Stuttgart, a man was stabbed to death in the street with a sword-like object on Wednesday evening. A neighbor filmed the crime and posted the video online, which could still be found online hours after it was published. Numerous people distributed the recordings. The spread of such violent videos was hotly debated in social networks, including on Twitter.

Recordings of acts of violence and their dissemination, for example in social networks, can injure the victim's "highly personal sphere of life". According to §201a of the Criminal Code (StGB) it is a criminal offense to take or distribute pictures of a person in which his helplessness is shown. This threatens up to two years imprisonment or a fine.

Christian Solmecke, attorney at law

The distribution of violent videos is also a violation of Section 131 of the German Criminal Code. "Whoever spreads' cruel or otherwise inhuman acts of violence against people" or makes them accessible to the public, thereby glorifying violence and violating the human dignity of the victim, explains the Cologne lawyer Christian Solmecke.

So anyone who uploads or shares gruesome violent videos and these serve to glorify violence or belittle it can face up to a year in prison or a fine. According to Solmecke, those who merely "like" violent videos are not threatened with criminal prosecution.

Special case "public interest"

Section 131 of the Criminal Code (2) states that the ban on distributing violent videos does not apply if "the act serves to report on current events or history." In the course of the debate about the video about the Stuttgart murder, the paragraph on Twitter was often quoted by users and used as an argument for further dissemination. "The regulation is to be understood in such a way that the dissemination must serve the reporting," says media lawyer Solmecke.

"In any case, it must be about conveying information that goes beyond the actual presentation." According to Solmecke, the clause hardly has any significance in practice: "Acts of violence are almost never a form of reporting." Instead, the rule is about enabling reporting without punishment in terms of freedom of the media and information - but not a pure representation of violence.

Platform and User Obligations

Users who discover violent videos online should report them to the platform operators. You can do this with just a few clicks. Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Co. must then act immediately to remove illegal and, in particular, criminal content. Otherwise the platforms can stick themselves.

I don't like it: Operators need to know that they are hosting violent videos and rely on users

"The Network Enforcement Act, which has been in force since 2017, also ensures that the deletion of criminal content such as depictions of violence and violations of the highly personal area of ​​life must be carried out quickly, usually within 24 hours," says Solmecke.

In the past, however, social networks such as Facebook, Youtube and Twitter have repeatedly come under fire for not deleting criminal content quickly enough. After the Christchurch attack in March in Australia, millions of copies of the video in which the perpetrator had streamed his crime were circulated in Australia.

The motives behind the publication

"It's about hoped-for popularity, hoped-for feedback from others," says media psychologist Astrid Carolus from the University of Würzburg to DW. "Others should see and share the video and give feedback. There is a deeply human need for recognition." Carolus describes the spread of such violent videos as a quick and resource-poor way to stage yourself.

The same applies to users who share and thus further disseminate corresponding videos. "If the video is newsworthy, then the person sharing the video can partake of that 'fame'." Users who share the videos hope to swim with the wave of attention.

Psychologists suspect that especially people with a strong personality trait of "sensation seeking" spread such videos. "Sensation Seekers" need varied, new and complex impressions and experiences and are often willing to take risks for them. "'Sensation Seekers' also get this excitement through media content, for example through exciting films, horror or crime novels - and they are more likely to click on such videos on the Internet," says Carolus.