German politics discovers YouTube – Foreign policy

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A week before the recent European elections, a young man with blue hair uploaded a video featuring his title— “The destruction of the CDU”—In seeking to rhetorically dismantle the ruling party in Germany for the past 14 years. Rezo, the online alias of the 26-year-old video producer, has built a significant following as a musician and artist – his main YouTube channel has over 1.6 million followers – who mainly listen to covers and mashups. pop songs he performs. You’d be forgiven for assuming that this latest intensely political video was an expression of youthful arrogance. Yet the video, combined with the disappointing election results that followed, did indeed plunge the Christian Democratic Union, Germany’s most powerful political party, into a free fall, leading many Germans to put the future of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s seemingly invincible party is in doubt.

That a single video can cause so much consternation in the German political establishment says more about the political landscape than the video itself. The centrist parties that have long dominated German politics have bled their voices, especially among younger voters. The CDU has tried to stop the bleeding by moving further to the right, but the party continues to lose ground. In the meantime, changes to the party’s media strategy have been minimal. Rezo’s video reveals that their inept communication is at least as important as their political positions.

The video attacks the party on three main points. First, Rezo argues that the centrist party’s policies have contributed significantly to growing income inequality in Germany and declining social mobility. He also accuses both the CDU and the traditionally more left-wing Social Democratic Party (SPD) of complicity in US war crimes. Middle East. At the heart of the video, however, is the claim that corrupt, reactionary and incompetent politics have prevented Germany from effectively contributing to the fight against global warming.

A week before the recent European elections, a young man with blue hair uploaded a video featuring his title— “The destruction of the CDU”—In seeking to rhetorically dismantle the ruling party in Germany for the past 14 years. Rezo, the online alias of the 26-year-old video producer, has built a significant following as a musician and artist – his main YouTube channel has over 1.6 million followers – who mainly listen to covers and mashups. pop songs he performs. You’d be forgiven for assuming that this latest intensely political video was an expression of youthful arrogance. Yet the video, combined with the disappointing election results that followed, did indeed plunge the Christian Democratic Union, Germany’s most powerful political party, into a free fall, leading many Germans to put the future of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s seemingly invincible party is in doubt.

That a single video can cause so much consternation in the German political establishment says more about the political landscape than the video itself. The centrist parties that have long dominated German politics have bled their voices, especially among younger voters. The CDU has tried to stop the bleeding by moving further to the right, but the party continues to lose ground. In the meantime, changes to the party’s media strategy have been minimal. Rezo’s video reveals that their inept communication is at least as important as their political positions.

The video attacks the party on three main points. First, Rezo argues that the centrist party’s policies have contributed significantly to growing income inequality in Germany and declining social mobility. He also accuses both the CDU and the traditionally more left-wing Social Democratic Party (SPD) of complicity in US war crimes. Middle East. At the heart of the video, however, is the claim that corrupt, reactionary and incompetent politics have prevented Germany from effectively contributing to the fight against global warming.

All three complaints are old, but Rezo’s relaxed but passionate delivery, along with his fluency in English slang popular among young Germans, sent the video to viral status. In four days he had more than 3 million views. As of this writing, it has been viewed almost 14.5 million times. The CDU struggled to react. According to Süddeutsche Zeitung, they recorded a video to respond, but then decided not to post it and post an extended rebuttal as a PDF instead. Party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer made matters considerably worse when she joked that she was surprised Rezo did not hold the party responsible for the “Seven Plagues in Ancient Egypt”. The attempt to deflate the anger the video had provoked with humor has turned against him, especially because Kramp-Karrenbauer, who is Catholic, confused the seven plagues of the end of biblical times with the 10 plagues inflicted on Egypt.

Rezo hadn’t finished yet. Two days before the elections, he published a video featuring some 90 other influencers on YouTube. Together, they make a clear statement: the German government coalition has led the country down the path of climate catastrophe. It is up to the voters to show them the urgency of the situation. So don’t vote for the CDU. The video then takes a dark turn. “Of course, dear politicians,” begins a YouTuber named Tim Jacken, “you can always try to discredit us.” The video cuts out and another YouTuber takes over. “You can say that we have no idea what we are talking about, that we are fake”, – the video cuts again – “that we have been instrumentalized, that we have been bought, and so on. Another cut and another influencer speaks, “You’ve used all these disrespectful tactics against us, your own citizens, already this year. Then there’s another cut, and Rezo ends the video by saying: “and we speak for many of our fellow citizens when we say these tactics haven’t made many friends for you.”

When the CDU lost 7 percentage points in the European elections, commentators were quick to point out the Rezo effect, and although the YouTuber himself denied that he had a substantial impact on the elections, the CDU leadership was eager to point the finger in his direction. The Monday following the election, Kramp-Karrenbauer suggested on Twitter that there should be rules to govern the speech of powerful Internet figures during elections: “It is absurd to accuse me of wanting to regulate speech,” she wrote. “Freedom of expression is a precious value in democratic societies. What we need to talk about, however, are the rules that apply during elections. Further, she argued that the videos were propaganda and that it would be unthinkable for serious newspapers to tell readers how to vote.

The statement was derided. On the right, she has been accused of incompetence: the editor-in-chief of Cicero, a conservative political magazine, suggested that the CDU management should have simply suggested Rezo’s affiliation with the powerful Ströer advertising group in a suggestive manner. The centrists largely joined the leftists in saying the declaration was both reactionary and incompetent.

Johannes Weberling, a prominent media lawyer and honorary professor of media law at the Viadrina European University in Frankfurt / Oder, called Kramp-Karrenbauer’s response “stupid” and insisted that the CDU should have responded in the same way – presenting its own arguments, preferably in video form. He agreed, however, that a conversation about the role of online figures in politics was overdue. German law, he explained, imposes a standard of truthfulness on journalists to which Internet figures are not indebted. Although it is legal for newspapers to support candidates in Germany, and was in fact common “30 or 40 years ago”, opinions in newspapers must be clearly marked as such – a possible strategy to fight against the spread of far-right propaganda in Germany. Such an approach, Weberling said, could also have made Rezo responsible. for some mistakes in a research project that has been widely regarded as largely precise, if one-sided.

But it’s hard to imagine that a more rigorous distinction between journalism and opinion or a more active presence of established parties on social media could do much to calm a simmering media landscape. “Journalists and parties have a similar problem,” said Oliver Schröm, one of Germany’s leading investigative journalists, when I asked him about the success of Rezo’s video. Schröm had struggled to gain traction for important stories online, so when Correctiv, the investigative journalism nonprofit that Schröm runs, published a story detailing massive tax fraud at the borders of Europe, they collaborated with the popular actor Jan Böhmermann and were very successful on social networks. “It’s not like young people are apolitical, but we haven’t figured out how to reach them,” said Schröm, citing Fridays for Future, the series of school strikes around the world to fight climate change, as an example of youth engagement.

This failure cost Germany’s most powerful parties dear. Andrea Nahles, head of the center-left SPD, resigned last weekend after the poor performance of this party in the last elections, and a new opinion poll published on Sunday showed that the Greens are, for the first time, the most popular festival in Germany. Whether they will be more successful by continuing to engage the public is an open question. According to research by BuzzFeed Germany, 49 of the 100 most popular posts about the European elections on German-speaking Facebook came from the far-right Alternative for Germany, while the right-wing populist Austrian party, the Party of freedom, contributed 13 others to the total. The Greens and the CDU were each able to place only one position in the top 100.

Rezo, for his part, has regularly rebuffed the CDU’s efforts to organize a debate – on the one hand, he claims that a stutter makes him a bad choice for a public figure. But he also said he doesn’t think there is any point in opening a discussion until parties recognize the urgency of climate change. For some, this position makes him a principled leader. Der Spiegel, to whom he gave an exclusive interview, identified him and Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, 16, as the leaders of a new generation of activists. They call them the ’19, a contemporary response to the 1968 generation that has long been the embodiment of political commitment. Today as then, the establishment media and politicians are struggling to figure out how to address a disillusioned population. The CDU’s anger against Rezo, and its inability to engage with him on its own terms, is all the more disturbing given that the other voices that have managed to animate the discussion online are not from the parties of the establishment, but to far-right demagogues. Perhaps rather than criticize Rezo or invite him to a debate, the CDU should have asked him a lesson.



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