ISD Germany

ISD Germany's work builds on 15 years of ISD research and programming in the heart of European democracy

As the most populous country in Europe, Germany plays a crucial role in combating polarisation and extremism worldwide and in mitigating hybrid threats to democratic liberties and rights. ISD Germany opened its doors in Autumn 2020, but our work in providing strategic advice to state institutions, ministries and civil society organisations (CSOs), dates back over a decade.  

Working under the leadership of Executive Director Huberta von Voss, the ISD Germany team is made up of experts in their respective fields, working on multi-year projects in the areas of digital regulation, disinformation, extremism and digital civic education. The organisation's aim is to build a clear understanding of the challenges of extremism, hate and disinformation facing the nation and implement relevant responses.

Civil society responses

ISD’s work empowering German civil society began in 2018 with the Online Civil Courage Initiative (OCCI), a joint partnership with Facebook. The OCCI was launched to up-skill and upscale civic response at a European level toward online hate and extremism. As the first strategic non-governmental effort of its kind, the OCCI combined expertise from technology, communications, marketing and academia in the counter-speech community in Germany, France and the UK. The project culminated in the publication of the report Hate Speech and Radicalisation Online /Hassrede und Radikalisierung im Netz, which provided interdisciplinary insights into the current developments of extremist activities online. The analysis considered the psychological, political, anthropological and technological aspects of online hate speech and radicalisation in order to provide a set of recommendations for political leaders, social media platforms as well as NGOs and activists.

ISD Germany now pioneers civil society responses to online hate and extremism within its own borders through adult education. The Business Council for Democracy (BC4D) is ​​an innovative education programme which provides adults in Germany with training on digital civic culture through their workplace. The course aims to teach participants how to recognise online harms and recognise their individual responsibility in helping to foster a tolerant, open and safe environment online. ISD Germany’s work through the BC4D has gained the support of the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations (Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände e.V, BDA) and has been praised by Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission.

Improving policy-making in Germany

ISD has spearheaded intergovernmental initiatives in counter-extremism since 2008, first through the Policy Planners Network on Countering Radicalisation and Extremism (PPN) which ran until 2019. During this time, the PPN delivered 19 international events which worked to upgrade and coordinate the strategies of its 12 governmental members through sharing of information and best practice for designing and implementing policies in countering extremism. 

This work has been followed by the Digital Policy Lab, established in 2020 in Germany. This inter-governmental working group focuses on charting the regulatory and policy path forward to prevent and counter disinformation, hate speech, extremism and terrorism online. Convening officials from eleven countries and the EU, the DPL provides policymakers with access to sector-leading expertise and research, and is helping to build an international community of policy practice around key regulatory challenges in the digital policy space. In 2021, ISD Germany published the Digital Policy Lab Companion Papers in English and German, which are a series of policy briefings and discussion papers that accompanied DPL events.

Sector-leading research on extremism and disinformation

ISD’s work mapping the nature and subsequent rise of the far-right in Germany has been extensive. In 2018, ISD published Hate at the push of a button/Hass Auf Knopfdruck, surveying far-right hate speech in Germany.  The research findings strongly suggested that far-right trolls use sophisticated media strategies to spread hate campaigns online, enabling a small but well-coordinated network of far-right accounts to mainstream their ideas.

Complementing and expanding on this report was The Online Ecosystem of the German Far-Right/Das Online-Ökosystem Rechtsextremer Akteure, which provides one of the most comprehensive overviews of the alternative online-ecosystem of the far-right in Germany to date. Drawing together ISD’s digital ethnographic work with machine learning and natural language processing, the report provides an overview of the size and nature of far-right communities on various online platforms; outlines the motivations for those participating in these communities; and assesses whether banning far-right groups from mainstream platforms leads to the displacement of their followers to ‘alternative’ platforms. 

Prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, ISD Germany expanded its work in mapping and monitoring the German far-right further in order to understand how lockdowns and ensuing restrictions affected German-speaking extremist communities in Austria, Switzerland and Germany online. In 2021, the team published Crisis and Loss of Control: German-Language Digital Extremism in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic/Krise und Kontrollverlust: Digitaler Extremismus im Kontext der Corona-Pandemie. The research analysed the networks and narratives of right-wing, left-wing and Islamist extremist actors. 

ISD Germany continues to work at the forefront of a rapidly evolving extremism landscape. ISD Germany analysts are currently researching the far-right ecosystem of alternative platforms and media channels and their interaction with mainstream online social media platforms, the findings of which will help decision-makers in state institutions, civil society and the social media industry better understand the complex far-right digital ecosystem.

In 2017, ISD investigated Kremlin and other foreign attempts to influence the 2017 German elections, publishing, “Make Germany Great Again” – Kremlin, Alt-Right and International Influences in the 2017 German Elections/ “MAKE GERMANY GREAT AGAIN” Der Kreml, die Alt-Right und die internationale Einflussnahme auf die Bundestagswahlen 2017. The report uncovered the tactics and narratives employed by Kremlin-sponsored media, pro-Kremlin social media networks and the international alt-right to distort political discourse during the election campaign period. ISD’s work tracking electoral disinformation continues in 2021, as the team is working to monitor mis- and disinformation in the lead up to the German Federal Election

As contested COVID-19-related public health measures became increasingly incorporated into the narratives of conspiracy theorists and far-right extremists, ISD Germany published Disinformation Overdose: A study of the Crisis of Trust among Vaccine Sceptics and Anti-Vaxxers/Überdosis Desinformation: Die Vertrauenskrise – Impfskepsis und Impfgegnerschaft in der COVID-19-Pandemie, which provides the most comprehensive insight to date of the online anti-vaccination community in Germany,  as well as the narratives and tactics they use to spread antivaxx disinformation. 

Ursula von der Leyen

“Companies benefit from social harmony, not just in the company, but in society as a whole. So why shouldn't businesses play an important role in strengthening our democracy?"

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

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ISD Germany team

Huberta von Voss-Wittig
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Huberta von Voss-Wittig

Executive Director, ISD Germany

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Huberta von Voss-Wittig
Huberta von Voss-Wittig

Executive Director, ISD Germany

Huberta von Voss is Executive Director at ISD Germany, where she has led the expansion of ISD's German office since 2019. She has previously been part of the leadership team of the New York based NGO Seeds of Peace. Her efforts as Director for Public Affairs and Communications led to steep digital growth, new media engagement, a Podcast series as well as a series of high level events in New York and Washington, D.C. Huberta is the author of "Portraits of Hope: The Armenians in the contemporary world" (Berghahn Books) as well as "Arme Kinder, reiches Land" (Rowohlt) on child poverty in post-reunification Germany. She has appeared on various German and international TV shows and is fluent in English and French. She serves on several boards, among them United Ways Germany, to foster social cohesion. Huberta was awarded the Leo Baeck Medal (2018) and the BGA Medal of Honor by the British-German Association. She is a member of the Young Leader network of the BMW Foundation and an alumni of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.
Gil Jung
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Gil Jung

Head of Communications and Events, ISD Germany

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Gil Jung
Gil Jung

Head of Communications and Events, ISD Germany

Gil Jung is the Head of Communications and Events at ISD Germany. As a communications expert with many years of international experience, Gil acts as ISD Germany’s main interface between the media, key stakeholders and programme teams, as well as on all organizational matters. Gil worked as a journalist in Bonn London and Paris before switching to public relations. She has left a broad portfolio of clients from the private sector behind to support the strategic expansion of ISD Germany in the DACH region.
Till Baaken
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Till Baaken

Senior Manager, Projects and Development, ISD Germany

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Till Baaken
Till Baaken

Senior Manager, Projects and Development, ISD Germany

Till Baaken is a Senior Projects and Development Manager at ISD Germany, focusing on right-wing extremism and Islamism as well as disinformation and conspiracy theories in German-speaking and English-speaking countries. His articles have been published in a range of publications, including the Journal for Deradicalization and the International Journal of Conflict and Violence. He has also contributed to several books and handbooks on radicalisation and de-radicalisation. He is the co-author of the ISD reports Disinformation Overdose: A study of the Crisis of Trust among Vaccine Sceptics and Anti-Vaxxers, Fluchtwege. Wie das Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz auf etablierten sozialen Medien durch die Verlinkung zu alternativen Plattformen umgangen wird and Wegweiser – Hintergrundbericht für das Projekt »Radikalisierung in rechtsextremen Onlinesubkulturen entgegentreten«. Till holds an MA in Terrorism, Security and Society from King’s College London.
Helena Schwertheim
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Helena Schwertheim

Senior Digital Policy and Research Manager, ISD Germany

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Helena Schwertheim
Helena Schwertheim

Senior Digital Policy and Research Manager, ISD Germany

Helena Schwertheim is Senior Digital Policy and Research Manager at ISD Germany, where she leads the Digital Policy Lab (DPL), a new intergovernmental working group focused on policy responses to prevent and counter disinformation, hate speech and extremism. Helena also leads a team of analysts studying digital threats posed to democracy by disinformation, hate speech and extremism.  Previously, Helena managed digital policy and research projects at Democracy Reporting International. She also has experience working in risk and political analysis in international organizations and think tanks, including at the UN World Food Programme in Rome, and the think tank International IDEA in Stockholm.
Christian Schwieter
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Christian Schwieter

Project Manager, Policy and Research, ISD Germany

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Christian Schwieter
Christian Schwieter

Project Manager, Policy and Research, ISD Germany

Christian Schwieter is a Project Manager at ISD Germany, leading the German-language research project on far-right activity on alternative and emerging online platforms. At ISD, Christian also co-led the pilot phase of the Digital Policy Lab, a new intergovernmental working group focused on charting the online policy path forward to prevent and counter disinformation, hate speech and extremism. Previously, Christian worked as a researcher for the Computational Propaganda Project at the Oxford Internet Institute, where he co-authored reports on state-backed information operations relating to the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2019, Christian was the Specialist Adviser on Disinformation Matters for the UK Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee at the House of Commons. Christian holds an MSc in Social Science of the Internet from the University of Oxford and a BA from Leiden University College The Hague.
Dominik Hammer
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Dominik Hammer

Research Manager, ISD Germany

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Dominik Hammer
Dominik Hammer

Research Manager, ISD Germany

Dominik Hammer is a Research Manager at ISD Germany. Dominik focuses on the analysis of far-right online activities with an emphasis on qualitative research. Dominik’s prior research focused on democratic theory, the strengthening of democratic praxis and the analysis of antidemocratic movements. Dominik holds a MA in Political Science from the Dresden University of Technology and a BA in Governance and Public Policy from the University of Passau. He is currently working on his PhD in Political Theory.
Jakob Guhl
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Jakob Guhl

Research Manager

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Jakob Guhl
Jakob Guhl

Research Manager

Jakob Guhl is a Manager at ISD, where he works within the Digital Research Unit and with ISD Germany. His research focuses on the far-right, Islamist extremism, hate speech, disinformation and conspiracy theories. He is a frequent commentator on German radio and broadcast, including Deutschlandfunk, Tagesthemen, NDR and Radio Eins. Jakob has been invited to present his research about online hate to the German Ministry of the Justice and provided evidence to the German Minister of the Interior and the German Family Minister on how to strengthen prevention against right-wing extremism and antisemitism. His research has been featured in Die Zeit, The Guardian, DW, The Telegraph, CNN, Euronews, Coda Story, Vice, Politico, New Republic and Die Welt, among others. Additionally, he has published articles in the “Journal for Deradicalisation”, “Demokratie gegen Menschenfeindlichkeit”, Taz, Der Standard, GNET and co-authored an essay for an edited volume of the Munich Residence Theatre about the origins of contemporary political anger. He is the co-author of ISD reports Crisis and Loss of Control: German-Language Digital Extremism in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Hosting the ‘Holohoax’: A Snapshot of Holocaust Denial Across Social Media, A Safe Space to Hate: White Supremacist Mobilisation on Telegram and The Online Ecosystem of the German Far-Right. Jakob holds an MA in Terrorism, Security and Society from King’s College London.
Mauritius Dorn
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Mauritius Dorn

Digital Policy Fellow

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Mauritius Dorn
Mauritius Dorn

Digital Policy Fellow

Mauritius is a Digital Policy Fellow at ISD Germany, where he coordinates ISD’s digital policy recommendations on election-related online harms and presents them to political stakeholders at EU level and in Germany. He conducts disinformation trainings with political parties and candidates, coordinates with other stakeholders from academia and civil society, and assists in the design of awareness campaigns. Mauritius is also involved in the Digital Policy Lab (DPL), a new intergovernmental working group focused on policy responses to prevent and counter online disinformation, hate speech and extremism. Previously, Mauritius worked as a public affairs consultant in Berlin, advising clients from the public and private sector on their lobbying strategies in the area of digital policy and digital economy. Mauritius holds a MSc double degree in Global Media and Communications from the London School of Economics and Political Sciences and Fudan University, and a BA in Sociology, Politics and Economics from Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen.
Simone Orgel
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Simone Orgel

Educator at the Business Council for Democracy, ISD Germany

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Simone Orgel
Simone Orgel

Educator at the Business Council for Democracy, ISD Germany

Simone is a Berlin based Digital Strategist and artist focusing on participation processes and community building in the digital space and political landscape. She gave classes at the European-University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder) and does research at the Universität der Künste. Simone studied Communication in Social and Economic Contexts at the Berlin University of the Arts, as well as the University of Toronto, and has worked as a communications expert and leader for several public and private institutions such as GIZ, Deutsche Bundesbank, Wikimedia and re:publica. At ISD, she is working as an educator for the Business Council for Democracy (BC4D).
Sina Laubenstein
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Sina Laubenstein

Educator at the Business Council for Democracy, ISD Germany

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Sina Laubenstein
Sina Laubenstein

Educator at the Business Council for Democracy, ISD Germany

Sina Laubenstein is an Educator at the Business Council for Democracy (#BC4D) at ISD Germany. She is involved with developing and implementing a training program for adult audiences, empowering them against a wide array of online harms (hate speech, disinformation and conspiracy myths). She previously worked for the Berlin-based association Neue deutsche Medienmacher*innen e.V., being the project lead of the No Hate Speech Movement in Germany. She has further worked with the Council of Europe and consulted various Federal ministries and foundations on topics such as digital citizenship, hate speech and radicalisation online. Sina holds an MA in Global Studies and Societal Change from Malmö University and a BA in Political Science from the University of Mannheim. She has co-authored the ISD report Hate Speech and Radicalisation Online: The OCCI Research Report.
Hannah Winter
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Hannah Winter

Analyst

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Hannah Winter
Hannah Winter

Analyst

Hannah Winter is an Analyst at ISD specialising in digital research and investigating the emergence and spread of disinformation, conspiracy theories and extremist ideologies in social networks. As a member of the ISD Election Monitoring Unit, she researches political communication online, disinformation campaigns and attempts to influence elections. She is co-author of the ISD reports Überdosis Desinformation: Die Vertrauenskrise - Impfskepsis und Impfgegnerschaft in der COVID-19 Pandemie and The Battle for Bavaria: Online information campaigns in the 2018 Bavarian State Election.
Lea Gerster
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Lea Gerster

Analyst

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Lea Gerster
Lea Gerster

Analyst

Lea Gerster is an Analyst at ISD and ISD Germany. She works across a range of projects focused on the proliferation of extremist ideologies and disinformation in the English- and German-speaking part of the internet. Previously, Lea worked for two years in online extremism-related roles at TRD Policy and the Centre on Radicalisation and Terrorism. She also worked as an intern for the Swiss foreign office and as a volunteer at a Japanese tea farm. She is the co-author of the ISD report Crisis and Loss of Control: German-Language Digital Extremism in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic. She holds an MA War Studies from King’s College London and a BA in history, Japan studies, and political sciences.
Nora Mathelemuse
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Nora Mathelemuse

Analyst

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Nora Mathelemuse
Nora Mathelemuse

Analyst

Nora Mathelemuse (they/them) is an Analyst for ISD's Digital Research Unit, helping to detect and analyse information operations and extremist activity online. They are aiding with the development of methodological tools for detection on disinformation and extremism. Nora is a Senior Social Justice Fellow of Humanity in Action, where they co-conceptualized an unConference on Sex-education. They have also worked within the healthcare sector as a psychological nursing assistant in psychiatric, psycho-somatic and somatic in-patient wards. Recently, Nora graduated from a Data Science course, some of their Projects encompassed Natural Language Processing, Web Scraping and trend prediction. Before entering the world of Data Science and Programming. They have a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology and Psychology as well as a Graduate Diploma in Psychology. Focusing their Research on the interaction between the impact of hate, discrimination and mental health.
Paula Matlach
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Paula Matlach

Research Associate

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Paula Matlach
Paula Matlach

Research Associate

Paula Matlach is a Research Associate at ISD. She studies the spread of disinformation and propaganda in German and English-speaking countries. Prior to her work at ISD, she worked as a researcher at the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, where she published articles on network regulation and foreign influence, among other topics. At ISD, she has co-authored the research report „Fluchtwege. Wie das Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz auf etablierten sozialen Medien durch die Verlinkung zu alternativen Plattformen umgangen wird“. 
Sara Bundtzen
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Sara Bundtzen

Research and Policy Associate, ISD Germany

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Sara Bundtzen
Sara Bundtzen

Research and Policy Associate, ISD Germany

Sara Bundtzen is a Research and Policy Associate at ISD Germany. She is involved in the Digital Policy Lab (DPL), a new intergovernmental working group focused on policy responses to prevent and counter online disinformation, hate speech and extremism. She also supports ISD’s wider research and advisory on election-related disinformation and influence campaigns, as well as extremism and terrorism-related content. Sara holds an MA in International Security from Sciences Po Paris and a BSc in European Studies from the University of Southern Denmark.
Julia Ebner
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Julia Ebner

Senior Research Fellow

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Julia Ebner
Julia Ebner

Senior Research Fellow

Julia Ebner is a Senior Research Fellow at ISD, specialising in far-right extremism, reciprocal radicalisation and European terrorism prevention initiatives. Julia advises parliamentary working groups, frontline workers and tech firms, and delivers workshops in schools and universities. She regularly writes for the Guardian and the Independent and has appeared on the BBC, CNN, ZDF, ARD, France24, Al Jazeera, LBC and others. She is the author of The Rage: The Vicious Circle of Islamist and Far-Right Extremism and is co-author of the ISD reports The Online Ecosystem of the German Far-Right, The Great Replacement: The Violent Consequences of Mainstreamed Extremism, Mainstreaming Mussolini – How the Extreme Right Attempted to ‘Make Italy Great Again’ in the 2018 Italian Election, The Fringe Insurgency – Connectivity, Convergence and Mainstreaming of the Extreme Right, and Hate at the push of a button. Julia holds an MSc (Dist) in International History from London School of Economics and an MSc (Dist) in International Relations from Peking University. She completed her undergraduate studies with a BA (Hons) in Philosophy and a BSc in International Business.