A survey conducted by the Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach and published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, demonstrated that only 18% of those questioned felt they could express themselves freely in a public space.
A dismal number for a western democracy, but what might be even more shocking is that only 31% of those questioned reported they could speak freely and openly, even regarding controversial topics, among friends.
A mere 17% of people felt comfortable expressing their view on the internet.
The survey also found that two-thirds of participants considered the politically-correct demands on speech so severe that it actually impeded their ability to communicate, especially when it came to interacting with foreigners, immigrants, and German citizens borne of immigrant parents.
In the experiences of 34% of those polled, freedom of speech in Germany is confined to only the smallest of social circles – close friends or family members. 41% claimed over-exaggerated political correctness was the culprit for the worsening protections on speech.
Existing hate speech and other censorship laws in Germany have also extended to the internet. In late 2016, the German government wanted to pass legislation that would fine Facebook 500,000 euros for every story flagged as fake news which remained on the internet platform for more than 24 hours after being reported and investigated.
In the book which saw him win the Nobel Prize for Literature, The Gulag Archipelago, Russian military officer turned political prisoner and author, Alexander Solzhenitsyn outlines in the first chapter titled “Arrest” the process with which the Soviets broke down the ability of the Russian intelligentsia to speak freely.
Along with laws against dissent and the monopoly on power to enforce them, the Bolsheviks main weapon was fear and uncertainty. Famously, Solzhenitsyn says 1 of every 3 members of the ordinary Russia family were paid government informants, thereby creating a curtain of fear under which there was no place to safely speak out against Stalin’s terrible regime.
German citizens are not being shot dead by commissars, but on the other hand, if the threat of losing one’s job or becoming ostracized as a public voice prevents the exercise of free speech, then one would think dangerous road is being tread.
On the other hand, there are some well-supported politicians who consider this the first step towards a freer society. During a visit to the U.S. in April of last year, French President Emmanuel Macron suggested that the United States should follow the European model for hate speech and fake news, claiming that the erosion of our democracies comes first and foremost at the hands of “corrupt information”.
From a sociological standpoint however, the German people seem to feel they can’t express themselves in most situations, which corrupts information in a different way.