Three Days in a Facebook Hate Group of “Atheists Guided by Reason”

How did I get into this group? And where is it gone all of a sudden? It has left my Facebook stream of notifications – I did not receive a note that I have been excommunicated. The content is “no longer available”, as if Facebook has deleted it, so the illusion Facebook is ready to sell. It will be available and it will be as uncanny as it was when I was in there.

How did I get into this group? Facebook’s higher wisdom, the analysis of my networks. One of my friends is here and a moment later I am not only invited into this group but right into the right and populist web that has not been that accessible to me before.

Atheists guided by Reason, no racists, but not naïve neither

“Vernunftgeleitete Atheisten, keine Rassisten aber auch keine Gutmenschen”. The stumbling block is this word “Gutmensch” – satirical, German, for people who do things with good intentions against all the higher dictates of reason.

And not racists? – So what exactly? A definition of reason is the welcome note:

Der Begriff Vernunft bezeichnet in seiner modernen Verwendung die Fähigkeit des menschlichen Denkens, aus den im Verstand durch Beobachtung und Erfahrung erfassten Sachverhalten universelle Zusammenhänge der Wirklichkeit durch Schlussfolgerung herzustellen, deren Bedeutung zu erkennen, Regeln und Prinzipien aufzustellen und danach zu handeln.

That is even more difficult to translate. Undertones pervade this definition, like this authoritarian declaration to follow the “modern view” as opposed to an unnamed antiquated view. Reason enables us to think, to draw universal conclusions, and to act accordingly… All which is not exactly an invitation to discuss options; although this is a “study group”, so the label.

Mirth and hate

The climate is startling – a mixture of collective mirth and hate. The group with its over 600 members is not exactly involved in studies. The picture of a Muslim woman turning a page in a Quran-Codex is the closest I get to studying. It is posted by a female group member with a brief lecture on Islam: “Gottesknechtschaft statt Leben in Selbstverantwortung!!“ – “being God’s drudge instead of living a free and responsible life!!” The sub text reads: “The Quran spreads the fairy tale that God has predetermined all our actions and that we cannot do anything without his consent. Allah has already decided who is going to be poor and who will be rich, who is a Muslim and who an unbeliever. Mohammad created a God of despotic decisions…”

The crowd joins in in a form of collective brainstorming: “All this is solely to the advantage of men!!”, so a second female voice. “Yes, but it is designed so that men can feel attracted to this religion.” – “Don’t call them ‘men’. ‘Man’ is a title of honour and there is no honour in a religion of honour killings!!” – “But Christians are not really better, or are they?” Now that has to be modified: “The atrocities of the Middle Ages were atrocities of the Middle Ages, not of the New Testament.” The debate has stepped into history: “It’s all the US’ fault!” – “No”, another voice: “Our capitalist system, has made us all dependent on oil exporting Muslim countries!”

I tell the story of the Muslim woman who showed courage in a moment when I was attacked by a fellow German. Others in the train’s compartment were immediately on her side and ended the situation. This my story has almost overstretched the group’s tolerance. Why did I not defend myself like a real man? The two leading female voices cover my interjection with a change of the subject. My note is soon in the four pages on the Muslima which Facebook will expand only on request.

The Brussles’ terrorist attacks and the blood of the Gutmenschen

Day two came with the disturbing images and statements. It was to become the day of the Brussels terror attacks, but they were not the intriguing morning news. A high-ranking (right-wing) NPD official had received help from the hands of recently arrived refugees after his vehicle had come off the road. The journalists reported on this with a grin. The post on the group’s page came with a savoury detail: “The refugees had already disappeared when police arrived! Of course, pickpockets on their way…”

News of the Brussels attacks rolled in and exited the room. This was what one had predicted all along. ” Integration is impossible!!” so the woman who had offered me a better Quran understanding the day before.

Merkel was clueless. Of course!! (The use of exclamation marks is something to adopt.) Merkel’s and the Brussels regime are corrupt. Now they have to confess it: they do not have a clue!!

Someone wanted to know whether he was the only one who was silently happy about the loss of lives – happy because the event had cost mostly the lives of some more Gutmenschen.

Someone contradicted with a hint at the left as the real enemy.

Between a rock and a hard place

I had entered debates here and there with mixed feelings and on an uncomfortable seat. If I left an argument for a minute of work I would read comments on this my cowardly departure. If I returned unimpressed I would read that I was apparently a troll, someone who wants to turn this group into his platform.

It was easy to vex them: all crimes should be reported on with a look at the nationality of the perpetrators. “So”, me asking back, “you want to read statements like: ‘two Germans raped a German woman in Bremen this morning?’ Imagine what impression we would get with the present statistics…”

Eventually my quick excommunication

I ended my day with a last look at this group. I had seen how they had reacted on the Brussels attacks. I had read a review of Richard Dawkins’s God Delusion. I had been puzzled about the AfD advertisement – advertisement for Germany’s new populists (who I would suspect of evangelical and creationist roots).

Someone posted the link to an article on Syrian refugees who had set themselves on fire in that Greek camp adjoining the closed Macedonian border. Facebook had automatically presented the link with the image of a man in flames. The person who had posted link and image on the group’s page commented on the event with the sneering remark that “they were finally solving the problem for us”.

Füchtlinge zünden sich an

Einstein was still looking down on us from the group’s banner, a refugee and one who had probably never felt integrated anywhere outside the international academia. I was about to leave the office, ready to switch off the computer – but perhaps one quick remark:

The problem’s solution and the joy about it are not entirely new. Wikipedia on Walter Benjamin

Where exactly was I? In a group that was waiting for blood to flow.

…and gone like a bad dream

Reappearing on Facebook this morning I had to realise that all this was suddenly gone like a bad dream. The group’s messages have left my Facebook stream, I cannot even search their page, so the manipulative illusion. It is not as if they have thrown me out. It is as if a higher authority has ended their existence so that “their content is no longer available”:


Facebook wants us to live happily in the environments we are looking for. It will be war for some of us and peace for others. Gone as well: all the other hints at right wing closed groups which I had received as soon as I had been accepted.


Those I had met with in the brief debates had insisted on their personal openness. Personally they would have Muslim friends, privately or at work. They had no prejudices. But they also knew what they knew. The group’s hate would focus on absent minorities who turned into majorities outside: the wave of Muslims and the silent majority of the Gutmenschen of Europe who invited this wave. Who is to blame for all this hate?

(1) Germany’s Government is to blame. That was the consensus. Merkel personally, her coalition partner, and Brussels had brought us into this situation without the slightest plan and without the slightest readiness to ask the voter.

I was puzzled whenever I went into details. The alternatives were not that easily stated. What exactly do we expect if we let a civil war go on for five years? What exactly do we expect if we run a global system of huge economic discrepancies. What exactly is the bigger solution? The logic was somewhat the logic of my East-German villagers who swear that they will not have a problem with refugees because they will set fire to any house that might be assigned to accommodate them. The protest is pretty much the protest they would also voice against wind energy. We should get rid of it, it just looks awful and it is all the government’s fault.

(2) Richard Dawkins and the New Atheism are spreading a particular form of hate. I confess I felt uneasy about the ethics of the group. The consensus was, broadly speaking, one of moral superiority and self-defense: Believers (and more especially Muslim believers) would not hesitate to kill unbelievers. Their ethics are those of a Bronze Age religion, and atheists were well advised to see their own superiority and to act accordingly.

The atheist superiority will require a far longer consideration. The believer’s situation has is usually mindbogglingly complex and I do not see any such complexity in what I have read of atheist ethics. Any idea of the atheist’s moral superiority is eventually hollow. We will get the atheist mob sooner or later – people who will have read the Quran and the God Delusion and who will call for the more unpleasant steps to be taken. This mob is part of my East-German reality, it simply does not need Dawkins to state its views.

(3) Facebook and the new Social Media are generating the new hate waves. I confess feel extremely uneasy about any such view, just as I felt extremely uneasy about the recent negotiations between Germany’s government and Facebook to cut down on hate.

People are entitled to have their views and feelings and they should be free to express them.

I feel extremely uneasy when I hear the pedagogues calling: “Support us and we will teach the kids higher ethical standards…” They will raise an opposition to their Gutmenschentum, and this opposition will show an ugly face.

I feel extremely uneasy about the simple solution of giving state authorities access to the data Facebook is producing so that authorities can filter the news feeds and keep potential “terrorists” of whatever colour under close observation.

I feel extremely uneasy about an internal moral police operating on Facebook on request of those who feel “offended”. They are usually about to exert their own tyranny.

We will need free speech on the new global platforms.

Yet a few further considerations. Groups like the one I have visited are not just open platforms on which we see reality as it is, opinions as they are. They are nontransparent darkrooms under the undemocratic guidance of administrators who can streamline the climate by excluding anyone and any statement that does not create the general picture they want to see created in this group. If they throw you out this will not become transparent within the group. Those on board will simply feel that they are a majority on a platform of free expression. Liberal voices, so their view, leave these platforms as they do not happen to like the exchange – so the distorted view on the opaque medium.

What is far more problematic: My entire Facebook environment changed once I had been accepted. Groups I had never heard of were suddenly available – and disappeared from my sight again once I was excommunicated. Facebook wants me to see the problems which I should like to see. The Facebook world is hate for those who hate and liberal pluralism for those who want to enjoy this reality.

And the Tyranny of Political Correctness?

…is, sorry to say this, the tyranny of your aunt blushing at the table when you tell a good joke. Political correctness is a miraculous enemy, a paper tiger that wants to be attacked and that does not even strike back. Those who say what they would love to, gather votes, that’s all. Political correctness is not much more than an agreement with which you can sit at one and the same table with your enemies. Jokes, transgressions, satire, comedy, humour, irony are constantly changing all our notions of this paper tiger.

We know far less about regime that ends the rule of this correctness. You can suddenly say the truth. Which truth? And: is it a truth? And is t true you could not say it thus far? In any case the new situation is not only that you can say it, it is that you better do say it. The new regime is one of single directions and forcibly a no-irony, no-elegance, no-self-criticism regime. If it works out well it creates this hate and mirth you have seen on rare old photographs of public lynchings – will yes, that is a sort of wonderful freedom for all who are happy to be part of the new majority.

Links + More

  • Well-written article on how media like Facebook shape the news feeds, so that conspiracy theorists find themselves in an environment of conspiracy theories: Renee Diresta, “Social Network Algorithms Are Distorting Reality By Boosting Conspiracy Theories. Talk of Facebook’s anticonservative stance is in the news, but the issue of what news social networks choose to show us is much broader than that. Just ask the anti-vaxxers.” 2016-05-11.

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