Vigilante artist forces Twitter to face up to hate speech

What’s your approach to online hate speech? For the many, it’s letting a part of you quietly die inside, and then begrudgingly carrying on with your day. Not so for Shahak Shapira, a German-Israeli artist who, after reporting around 300 tweets in six months to no avail, decided to take matters into his own hands. Literally.

Shapira took to Twitter’s Hamburg headquarters, stencilling the offensive tweets in question onto the street outside the offices. Hateful sentiments like “Germany needs a final solution to Islam” and “Let’s gas the Jews” were emblazoned across the road and pavement, in a hands-on bid to win the company’s attention.

“If Twitter forces me to see these things, then they’ll have to see them too,” the artist proclaimed in a YouTube video named #HeyTwitter, showing Shapira stencilling 30 of the tweets. The artist decried the tweets as “not just plain insults or jokes, but absolutely serious threats of violence”.

Hate speech – reprehensible anywhere in the world – takes on another dimension in Germany due to the legacy of the Nazi regime. Sensitivity surrounding the callous phenomenon of online hate speech is heightened as memories of World War II and the Holocaust live on, and legal ramifications are being ramped up accordingly. Back in June, Germany passed a law that holds social media companies to account for the content they permit on their sites, meaning they could be levied with fines of up to €50 million (around £45 million) for failing to remove hateful posts.


And it seems the increase in pressure is paying off. Worthy of commendation is Facebook, which was substantially more successful in quashing hate speech: of the 150 comments that Shapira reported to Mark Zuckerberg’s brainchild over the same six-month period, 80% were removed within one to three days. Although it’s fair to say that the company takes Germany’s laws more seriously than other parts of the world.

This isn’t the first time Shapira’s visceral condemnations of disrespectful online phenomena have hit headlines. Back in January, the artist simultaneously lampooned and derided the trend for taking selfies with Holocaust memorials on his website Yolocaust, stripping away background images and replacing them with scenes from concentration camps. The result was a powerful exposition of public flippancy in the face of the superlatively sombre subject matter.

Shapira’s latest watchdog endeavour can be watched below:

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