30 October 2023
By: Julian Lanches
In Germany, Pride month,— also commonly known as Christopher Street Day (CSD) in German— is celebrated every June since 1979. The rainbow colours are used throughout the month in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community, and parades are planned in cities around the world to celebrate diversity and tolerance. However, in June 2023, instead of the internationally established hashtag #Pridemonth, the hashtag #Stolzmonat was instead highly visible across German-language Twitter. Considering that “Stolz Monat” is the German translation of Pride month, one could easily assume that this hashtag was just another form of support for this year’s celebrations. However, as this Digital Dispatch will highlight, the idea behind the hashtag was coined by far-right Twitter bloggers just shortly before June 2023 and quickly amplified by Twitter accounts affiliated to Germany’s largest far-right party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). Throughout June 2023, on average, eight of the 10 daily posts with greatest reach on Twitter containing either the term “Stolzmonat” or the respective hashtag, #Stolzmonat, expressed anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments or support for broader far-right sentiments (the remaining posts were counter speech). What we found was that “Stolz Monat” was a coordinated far-right counter-campaign to Pride Month, which sought to distort LGBTQ+ discourse on Twitter during the annual celebration.
This Digital Dispatch analyses what we refer to as the Stolzmonat-campaign on Twitter. In it, we identify the core narratives behind the spread of the term and its corresponding hashtag, the campaign’s foundation and origin, including a website which was set up specifically for the campaign, as well as key actors engaged in its dissemination, and the politicians that built on its momentum. We did so by analysing all German-language Twitter posts containing the term “Stolzmonat,” or the hashtag #Stolzmonat, in May and June 2023 and found that the phrase was largely being used sarcastically to express anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments and in support of the AfD. Furthermore, the user ISD identified as having initiated this campaign prompted other users to create their own profile pictures to counter the commonly used rainbow-coloured profile picture overlays that are popular during the month of June.
This Dispatch builds on recent ISD research on broader anti-LGBTQ+ mobilisation trends. Anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments constitute an important part of both far-right and Islamist extremism and can even serve as a linking element between the two ideologies. Furthermore, conspiracy theorist movements have also increasingly promoted anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments and engaged in the harassment of LGBTQ+ activists. Considering that LGBTQ+ communities are frequent targets of hatred and harassment, it is crucial to gain a better understanding of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments in order to safeguard democracy and all human rights.
Timeline and Metrics
The Twitter Stolzmonat-campaign likely originated in late May 2023. Although the first tweet with the word on 23 May, does not appear to be linked to what we are referring to as the Stolzmonat-campaign and instead seems to be an unrelated use of the German translation, referring to the actual Pride month. The origins of the campaign can be traced to a tweet from 25 May which initiated the idea of using a profile picture overlayed in seven colour shades which resemble the three colours of the German flag (black, red and yellow), instead of the common Pride Month profile picture overlay with panels of rainbow colours, in addition to the hashtag. For the remaining days of May, the term Stolzmonat and the hashtag #Stolzmonat were predominantly mentioned in posts promoting the usage of the German-flag profile picture overlay and rallying for the campaign’s ‘official’ start on 1 June 2023.
To get a better understanding of the proportion of harmful and non-harmful content that were spread during the campaign, ISD analysed the 10 tweets (with the term or the respective hashtag) with the largest reach for each day in June 2023. We found that on average, eight out of 10 posts were supportive of the campaign, expressing anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments or support for broader far-right sentiments. The remaining posts comprised media reporting about the campaign and general counter speech against the campaign. The term “Stolzmonat” or the respective hashtag were not used in any of the days in June to promote Pride Month independently from the Stolzmonat-campaign.
During June 2023, the use of the term and its respective hashtag increased exponentially with a total of 824,651 mentions in German-language tweets by the end of the month. Of the tweets that could be geolocated, 84 percent were sent from Germany. The start of the campaign garnered considerable attention, as tweets containing the term or the hashtag soared from a few thousand mentions in May 2023 to nearly 43,000 mentions alone on 1 June, the first official day of the campaign. The associated hashtag #Stolzmonat was also extremely popular among adherents of the campaign, being retweeted nearly 600,000 times. According to the Twitter Trending Archive, the hashtag #Stolzmonat ranked continuously among the top-five trending German hashtags in the first five days of June. It was also significantly more salient on German-language Twitter compared to Pride month’s official hashtag #Pridemonth which was retweeted about 40,000 times.
The Stolzmonat-campaign initiated on 25 May when introduced by a private Twitter account with just over 20,000 followers. In the post, the user declared June to be “Stolzmonat” and proposed the idea of adapting the rainbow colour profile picture overlay but in shades of the German flag. This person associated with this account gave an interview with the pro-AfD newspaper Junge Freiheit as the initiator of the campaign, in which they reiterated the idea. Later that day, the idea was picked up by the regional Twitter account of the AfD chapter of Wuppertal, who used the hashtag #Stolzmonat for the first time on Twitter.
From the very beginning, the Stolzmonat-campaign was strongly promoted by official party accounts of the AfD, as well as by individual AfD politicians. On 1 June, the three tweets with the greatest reach all came from AfD-related accounts. The tweet with the highest reach was posted by the account of the AfD’s Thuringia chapter, which expressed support of the campaign and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments stating that they reject “rainbow crap” and “gender madness”. AfD politician Beatrix von Storch also demanded via a tweet on the same day that Pride Month should be thrown into a “trash can”.
It seems that the AfD may have quickly realised the potential of the Stolzmonat-campaign and attempted to capitalise on it. The AfD began to actively shape the campaign with one of the overall most retweeted posts from the period analysed. On 2 June, the AfD’s official party account promoted the hashtag #stolzstattscholz (pride instead of Scholz) as a sub-hashtag of the Stolzmonat-campaign. This adaptation of the hashtag expressed clear criticism for the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, and ended up becoming the third-most shared hashtag after the hashtags #Stolzmonat and #Stolzstattpride. The impact of the AfD on the Stolzmonat-campaign is further highlighted by the fact that the online membership application form of the AfD was highly shared among Stolzmonat-related tweets. Likewise, a tweet which promoted a YouTube video showing AfD politician Matthias Helferich mentioning “Stolzmonat” in a speech in a parliamentary debate in the German national parliament was also widely circulated. Throughout June, the Stolzmonat-campaign was continuously promoted by prominent AfD politicians on Twitter, including Björn Höcke, Beatrix von Storch, Thomas Seitz, Steffen Kotré, Jan Nolte, Ulrich Siegmund, and Georg Pazderski.
Far-right Twitter bloggers
In addition to AfD and other well-known far-right actors such as the media outlet Compact Magazin or the former Austrian vice-chancellor Hans-Christian Strache, lesser-known far-right bloggers with a medium reach also played a significant role in promoting the Stolzmonat campaign. These far-right bloggers heavily pushed the campaign in May 2023 by promoting the idea and sharing links to profile picture frame generators and the campaign’s unofficial website. Throughout June, they remained highly active, engaging in debates and creating and disseminating various memes and pictures with the term Stolzmonat or corresponding slogans. Despite their medium reach, these bloggers exerted a significant impact on the campaign, accounting for nine of the 10 most mentioned Twitter accounts during the campaign. In total, they posted 5,758 Tweets (on average 332 per blogger) during the campaign analysis. These accounts had a combined following of 120,036.
Twitter users with limited reach
By and large, Stolzmonat-related tweets came predominantly from Twitter accounts with a relatively limited reach. Amongst the 100 accounts with the most Stolzmonat-related posts, only the account of the initial user who began the campaign possessed more than 10,000 followers at the time of analysis. Excluding the account of this initial user, the rest of the accounts had an average of 1,428 followers. An analysis of the 10 most active accounts reveals that all of them expressed far right beliefs as understood through racist language, anti-immigrant and anti-Islam sentiments, climate change denial, COVID-19 and vaccine scepticism, as well as conspiratorial beliefs. All 10 accounts were found to express strong support for the AfD.
Counter speech and media reporting
Lastly, it is also noteworthy that the Stolzmonat-campaign was not only driven by its supporters but also by opponents and accounts considered, such as journalists and newspapers, which used the hashtag while reporting on the campaign. In fact, the two posts with the greatest reach during June can be classified as counter speech. A tweet by the state intelligence of Lower Saxony which explicitly warned against the Stolzmonat, labelling it a “far-right extremist hijacking attempt” of Pride month, was viewed more than 1.3 million times. As such, these users may have also inadvertently contributed to the dissemination of the campaign.
Coordination and tactics behind the campaign
The Stolzmonat-campaign featured a relatively high degree of coordination. First and foremost, a now-disabled website was set up specifically for the campaign. The link to this website was the most shared URL among Stolzmonat-related Tweets. An investigation of the source code of the website shows that it was set up just shortly before June on 27 May 2023. According to the website, the Stolzmonat-campaign would constitute a “counterbalance” to the “craze of the woke people” and “the rainbow”. The website stated four goals of the campaign: generating visibility, the ‘normalisation’ of the German flag and a return to “German values”. The core idea, both promoted by the website and various tweets, was that every Twitter supporter should utilise the German-coloured profile picture frame. For this purpose, the website directly provided a profile picture frame generator. Amongst the 20 most shared URLs in Stolzmonat-related tweets are two additional profile picture frame generators.
The second distinct marker of the Stolzmonat-campaign was the hashtag #Stolzmonat. Users were called on to tag every Twitter post in June with this hashtag. Especially the above-mentioned far-right Twitter bloggers that promoted the hashtag with the aim of pushing it into the Twitter trends. Twitter users who engaged in the Stolzmonat-campaign also attempted to hijack the #Pridemonth hashtag. As a result, #Pridemonth was also a frequently mentioned hashtag amongst Stolzmonat-related Tweets. This hijacking attempt seems to have been relatively successful, considering that of the nearly 51,000 mentions of the hashtag #Pridemonth, nearly half of those posts (22,640) contained the hashtag #Stolzmonat as well. Moreover, these far-right bloggers also repeatedly called on their followers to post pictures of the German flag and the term Stolzmonat in the comments of Twitter posts that support Pride month, thereby attempting to generally shape the discourse revolving around Pride on Twitter and gain the interpretive sovereignty about these discourses.
Designed as a counter-campaign against Pride month, the Stolzmonat-campaign is inherently promoting an anti-LGBTQ+ agenda. In contrast to the scientific consensus, adherents of the Stolzmonat-campaign expressed beliefs that all sexual orientations that deviate from heterosexuality are abnormal and part of a bigger ‘leftist-woke’ ideology. Any gender identity beyond the male-female binary was rejected through the common slogan: “There are only two genders”. Furthermore, the “traditional” family of father, mother and child was promoted as the only legitimate family structure. In general, LGBTQ+ and associated symbols such as the rainbow were portrayed as an ideology of a minority-establishment, imposed on the people against their will through “brainwashing”. Consequently, education about and promotion of LGBTQ+ rights was characterised as a threat, in particular for children who allegedly must be protected from school-related “indoctrination”. Such narratives are in line with legitimising far-right stances by linking them to an alleged threat to children.
The display of nationalism constitutes one of the most prominent narratives of the Stolzmonat-campaign. Amongst Stolzmonat-related tweets, “Germany” was the third-most mentioned term (39,050 mentions). Other frequently mentioned terms such as flag, homeland and patriots, as well as hashtags such as #schwarzrotgold (black, red gold – the colours of the German flag) or #deutsch (German), and the German flag emoji further highlight the nationalist direction of the campaign. The German flag and being “truly German” are idealised as the only legitimate source of pride for Germans and juxtaposed against an oppressive “rainbow ideology”. Following this logic, it is impossible to be “truly German” and identify with LGBTQ+ or support the rights of LGBTQ+ people. The second most-frequently used hashtag (154,861 mentions) of the Stolzmonat-campaign, #Stolzstattpride, clearly expresses this juxtaposition: the German word for pride, “Stolz”, was charged with nationalism and contrasted against the English word pride which was used a synonym for an allegedly oppressive LGBTQ+ ideology, resulting in the hashtag “Stolz instead of pride”. On the one hand, this narrative allowed for a self-victimisation and the portrayal of a silent majority, as several tweets claimed that mere pride in their own country would automatically be equated with the imputation of holding far-right beliefs and subsequent marginalisation. On the other hand, an ostensible focus on the promotion of nationalism instead of open hatred for LGBTQ+ communities allowed the bigoted nature of the campaign to be veiled.
AfD support and anti-establishment sentiments
The entire Stolzmonat-campaign was closely intertwined with expressions of support for the AfD. This is highlighted by the fact that “AfD” was overall the most frequently mentioned word in all analysed tweets. Likewise, both the hashtags #AfD and #nurnochAfD (only AfD), as well the blue heart emoji (commonly associated with the AfD due to blue being the unofficial colour of the party) were present among Stolzmonat-related tweets. Various Stolzmonat-related tweets posted election advertisements or posters for the AfD and celebrated their high approval rate in recent polls. In particular, the election of Robert Sesselmann as the first ever AfD county commissioner was euphorically celebrated. On the day of his election, on 23 June, the hashtag #Sonneberg was used over 5,000 times in Stolzmonat-related posts.
Lastly, a less salient but nevertheless important narrative was networking with like-minded people. The hashtag #Vernetztungstweet (networking tweet) was the ninth-most shared hashtag amongst Stolzmonat-related Tweets. Likewise, words such as ‘networking’, ‘connected’, or ‘follower’ were frequently mentioned. From the beginning, the aforementioned far-right Twitter bloggers called on their followers to network with each other. As a result, many people used the hashtag #Stolzmonat to reach out to other likeminded people, often based on a follow-for-follow principle, while some users also celebrated an increase in the number of their followers due to the networking during the Stolzmonat-campaign. Such networking may provide users with a feeling of being part of a broader community and a sense of belonging, as well as evoke a feeling of strength in numbers.
This Digital Dispatch analysed the far-right #Stolzmonat campaign. Our findings show that the far-right continues to use Twitter to spread hatred against minority groups, in this case the LGBTQ+ community.
Our analysis found that the AfD played a critical role in the promotion of the #Stolzmonat campaign. Without significant efforts by the AfD, the campaign would likely have never reached the level it did. In fact, the campaign was closely intertwined with the AfD: on the one hand, AfD politicians and official party accounts promoted the campaign from the very beginning and throughout June, whereby clear anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments were displayed. On the other hand, the vast majority of Twitter users who engaged in the campaign expressed support for the AfD.
At the same time, our analysis highlights the importance of lesser known but highly active far-right bloggers who initiated the campaign, significantly contributed to its reach and even contributed to the coordination by setting up a website. The Stolzmonat-campaign is therefore also a good example of how anti-minority campaigns on social media can be amplified through mutual efforts.
Lastly, our findings demonstrate that those seeking to report on or criticise anti-LGBTQ+ campaigns should be careful not to inadvertently amplify them. Journalists and people who engaged in counter-speech alike used the hashtag #Stolzmonat for these purposes, which likely also contributed to the involuntary dissemination of the campaign.
While this snapshot of Twitter does not constitute a representative mapping of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments in the German population, it clearly highlights that despite a recent OECD study that Germany has a relatively high degree of (legal) inclusion with regard to the rights of LGBTQ+ people compared to other countries, anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments remain widespread. Considering the undermining effect on democracy and human rights, this Digital Dispatch underscores that efforts to tackle extremism and hatred should remain an urgent concern of politics.
Julian Lanches was previously a Research Intern at ISD.
- Reach was measured by means of Brandwatch which defines it as the average of the number of people estimated to have seen a given post from a source. The calculation looks at the reach of mentions from the source within the given period. Reach itself is calculated using metrics such as followers, engagement, page ranks and estimated views.
- Rapper Fler has criticised the AfD for referencing his lyrics: https://www.tagesspiegel.de/gesellschaft/afd-nutzt-seinen-songtext-rapper-fler-distanziert-sich-von-rechtspopulisten-9886433.html
- Including tweets and retweets.