It took a sexual harassment scandal to get Germany on Twitter

Angela Merkel likes to text, but doesn’t plan to tweet.
Angela Merkel likes to text, but doesn’t plan to tweet.
Image: Clemens Bilan/dapd
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Twitter has had a hard time finding traction in Germany, but a recent magazine article on sexual harassment has prompted the country’s women to tweet in droves. In last week’s issue of Stern, an article by journalist Laura Himmelreich alleged that politician Rainer Brüderle, a leader of the Free Democratic Party, approached her inappropriately on the eve of a party congress last year. Now, the hashtag #aufschrei (meaning outcry) has gone viral with German women sharing experiences dealing with inequality and sexual harassment.

A translation of an excerpt of the article:

Brüderle’s gaze drifted to my breasts. “You indeed can fill out a dirndl [a traditional dress worn in Germany, often with a tight bodice].” In the course of our conversation he reaches out to my hand and kisses it. “I would like you to accept my dance card.” “Mister Brüderle,” I say, ” you are a politician, I am a journalist.” “Politicians fall for all women journalists,” he says. I say: “I would prefer we would keep this professional.”  ”In the end we’re all just humans.”

According to the article, the politician’s spokeswoman stepped in and apologized when he came to close to Himmelreich’s face to say goodbye. Today, Brüderle told journalists, including Himmelreich, that he would not comment on the allegations.

The reaction on Twitter began when communications consultant, Anne Wizorek, started using #aufschrei to tweet about the sexual harassment of women in everyday life. Shortly after, women began tweeting with the hashtag’s English translation, #outcry. Within four days, more than 60,000 women tweeted about their experiences, from enduring lewd comments on the street to groping in bars.

The episode is revolutionizing Germany’s use of the social-media service. Until now, Twitter has been scarcely used in the country: Only 7.1 % of German internet users have an account, compared to countries like the U.S. (28%), UK (22.8%), France (11%) or the Netherlands (35%). Few German politicians are on Twitter; a spokeswoman for Angela Merkel recently announced the chancellor does not plan to open a Twitter account. As German blogger Sascha Lobo wrote in his weekly column (German), #aufschrei might be a step towards a new digital public in Germany.

Women in Italy and France are showing solidarity under the hashtags #gridala and #assez, respectively. A sampling of #aufschrei tweets:

@Happy Schnitzel: Columnist Sue Reindke tweeted about sexual comments of her driving inspector during her driving exam:

@chloemiriam: Chloë’s #outcry tweet reflected concerns of many women that sexual harassment is trivialized in everyday life:

@Hannah_MCurtis: Hannah wrote about rape culture in her #outcry tweet:

@JoSommerfugl wrote that sexism is not only a problem in Germany, but worldwide:

@doktordab: Meanwhile, media journalist Daniel Bröckerhoff would like for the debate to differentiate between sexism and sexual harassment: