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.  

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

Training gegen Fake News und Hate Speech

ISD Germany in the media

ISD Germany team

Huberta von Voss
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Huberta von Voss

Executive Director, ISD Germany

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Huberta von Voss
Huberta von Voss

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

Director of Communications and Events, ISD Germany

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Gil Jung
Gil Jung

Director of Communications and Events, ISD Germany

Gil Jung is the Director 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.
Sina Laubenstein
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Sina Laubenstein

Director of Programs, ISD Germany

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Sina Laubenstein
Sina Laubenstein

Director of Programs, ISD Germany

Sina Laubenstein is the Director of Programs for ISD Germany, designing and implementing the regional strategy of the Berlin-based entity and driving the strategic expansion of ISD’s portfolio in Europe. She is responsible for the inter-entity collaboration, connecting ISD Germany’s outputs and objectives to the global organisation and the wider team. At ISD, Sina is also leading a project on monitoring online gender-based violence around the 2024 European election and is co-leading the Coalition to Counter Online-Antisemitism (CCOA). She additionally was the co-developer behind the curriculum of the Business Council for Democracy (BC4D). Sina previously consulted on a law against digital violence, advising policymakers and the German government, and up until 2021, as a recognised expert in the field, she led an international project focusing on hate speech online.
Jan Nicola Beyer
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Jan Nicola Beyer

Senior Digital Methods Manager and Technical Lead

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Jan Nicola Beyer
Jan Nicola Beyer

Senior Digital Methods Manager and Technical Lead

Jan Nicola Beyer is a Senior Digital Methods Manager and Technical Lead at ISD Germany. Amongst his roles, Jan supports the Digital Analysis Unit (DAU) in the development and standardisation of research methods. He is significantly involved in the development of new digital research approaches that enable complex analyses of data from social media. Jan does this as part of the NOTORIOUS project in cooperation with the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences (HAW Hamburg) and the Leibniz Institute for Media Research | Hans Bredow Institute (HBI) in Hamburg.

Prior to joining ISD Germany, Jan worked for Democracy Reporting International (DRI), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and numerous other NGOs and consultancies. His academic background includes a Bachelor in European Studies from Maastricht University, a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) in Political Science from Oxford University and a Doctorate (PhD) in Political Science, jointly awarded by the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and the University of Geneva (UNIGE). Jan has contributed to reporting from media outlets such as Politico, BBC, Euroactive and Verfassungsblog on critical issues around disinformation, digital policy and the risks of technological change.
Mauritius Dorn
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Mauritius Dorn

Senior Digital Policy and Education Manager

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Mauritius Dorn
Mauritius Dorn

Senior Digital Policy and Education Manager

Mauritius is a Senior Digital Policy and Education Manager 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.
Jakob Guhl
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Jakob Guhl

Senior Manager, Policy & Research

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Jakob Guhl
Jakob Guhl

Senior Manager, Policy & Research

Jakob Guhl is a Senior Manager, Policy & Research, 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. Jakob is a frequent commentator on German radio and broadcast and has been invited to present his research on 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, New Statesman and GNET, and contributed to edited volumes about antisemitism on social media, conspiracy theories and the origins of contemporary political anger. He is the co-author of the ISD reports Researching the Evolving Online Ecosystem: Barriers, Methods and Future Challenges, Gen-Z & The Digital Salafi Ecosystem, 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.
Nathalie Rücker
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Nathalie Rücker

Senior Manager, Capacity Building & Civic Action, ISD Germany

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Nathalie Rücker
Nathalie Rücker

Senior Manager, Capacity Building & Civic Action, ISD Germany

Nathalie Rücker is Senior Manager, Capacity Building and Civic Action for ISD Germany. She manages the Business Council for Democracy (BC4D) project and also co-leads the project "Pan European Coalition against Online Antisemitism" (CCOA). Previously, Nathalie worked at the intersection of peacebuilding research, conflict prevention and human rights education, in Germany and abroad, focusing on global citizenship education and the capacity building of civil society actors. She holds a BA in Political Science and an MA in Public International Law and International Relations and is a trained conflict mediator.
Julia Smirnova
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Julia Smirnova

Senior Analyst

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Julia Smirnova
Julia Smirnova

Senior Analyst

Julia Smirnova is a Senior Analyst at ISD and ISD Germany, focusing on proliferation of disinformation, conspiracy myths, hate speech and extremist ideologies online. She is co-author of ISD reports Digitale Gewalt und Desinformation gegen Spitzenkandidat:innen vor der Bundestagswahl 2021, Ein Virus des Misstrauens: Der russische Staatssender RT DE und die deutsche Corona-Leugner-Szene and Desinformationskampagnen gegen die Wahl: Befunde aus Sachsen-Anhalt. Before joining ISD, Julia was working as a journalist writing for Der Spiegel and Die Zeit among others. As the Moscow correspondent for Die Welt, she was reporting on Russian politics, the annexation of Crimea and the war in Eastern Ukraine. She holds an MA in Conflict, Security and Development from King’s College London.
Hanna Börgmann
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Hanna Börgmann

Educator at the Business Council for Democracy, ISD Germany

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Hanna Börgmann
Hanna Börgmann

Educator at the Business Council for Democracy, ISD Germany

Hanna Börgmann is leading the research project "Countering Radicalization in Right-Wing Extremist Online Subcultures” at ISD Germany. She also works as an Educator for the Business Council for Democracy (BC4D), where she empowers employees to deal with hate speech, disinformation and conspiracy ideology online. Prior to joining ISD Germany, Hanna worked as a public sector consultant on digital transformation projects for PwC Germany and as a project coordinator for German-Israeli exchange in the field of innovation, including artificial intelligence, at ELNET Germany. Previously, Hanna earned her Master's degree in International Affairs at the Hertie School in Berlin, where she conducted research on antisemitic radicalization and mobilization in the image board subcultures of the so-called Chans, using the terrorist attack on the synagogue in Halle, Germany, as a case study.
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.
Christian Schwieter
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Christian Schwieter

Fellow

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Christian Schwieter
Christian Schwieter

Fellow

Christian Schwieter is a Fellow at ISD and a PhD candidate at the Department of Media Studies at Stockholm University, where he investigates the impact of European platform governance efforts on far-right activity on social media. Between 2020-2023, he led ISD Germany’s research on the migration of right-wing extremist actors to Telegram and other smaller platforms in response to increased content moderation on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. At ISD, he 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. In his role, he has advised the German Ministry of Justice, the German Foreign Office and the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, among others. Before ISD, Christian worked as a researcher for the Computational Propaganda Project at the Oxford Internet Institute and was Specialist Adviser on Disinformation Matters for the DCMS Select Committee at the UK House of Commons. He holds an MSc (Dist) in Social Science of the Internet from the University of Oxford and a BA (Hons) in World Politics from Leiden University.
Nicolaus Limbourg
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Nicolaus Limbourg

Nicolaus Limbourg, Project Coordinator for BC4D & EA for ISD Germany

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Nicolaus Limbourg
Nicolaus Limbourg

Nicolaus Limbourg, Project Coordinator for BC4D & EA for ISD Germany

Nicolaus Limbourg is a Project Coordinator at the Business Council for Democracy (BC4D), which offers training for adult employees to promote resilience against digital threats to democracy, such as hate speech, misinformation and conspiracy narratives. In addition, he provides support as the Executive Assistant for ISD Germany operation management. Previously, he worked in the field of conflict mediation in the Middle East with a focus on Israel-Palestine. Nicolaus holds a Master's degree in MSc Development Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London. His focus was on analysing the development of Hezbollah, its role in the Levant region, and its transition from an armed resistance group to an armed non-state actor.
Eden Davita Shankar
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Eden Davita Shankar

Operations Coordinator

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Eden Davita Shankar
Eden Davita Shankar

Operations Coordinator

Eden Shankar is the Operations Coordinator at ISD Germany. She supports the operations team in all areas of office management, recruitment and staff onboarding, and provides support to individual project coordinators. Previously, she worked in the non-profit sector, specifically in policy and advocacy at The Anonymous Indian Charitable Trust in India, and as a project coordinator at Conversation Over Borders— a refugee charity in the UK. Eden holds a BA in International Development from the University of Sussex.
Julia Ebner
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Julia Ebner

Senior Resident Research Fellow

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Julia Ebner
Julia Ebner

Senior Resident Research Fellow

Julia Ebner is a Senior Resident Research Fellow at ISD, specialising in far-right extremism, reciprocal radicalisation, conspiracy myths and terrorism prevention. Julia regularly advises parliamentary working groups, intelligence agencies and tech firms, and delivers guest lectures at universities. She acted as a consultant on counter-terrorism for the United Nations. To bring her research findings to wider audiences, Julia has written for newspapers such as the Guardian, Washington Post and Süddeutsche and has appeared on the BBC, Channel 4, CNN, ZDF, ARD, France24 and others. She is an award-winning and bestselling author of several books. Her first book The Rage: The Vicious Circle of Islamist and Far-Right Extremism won the Bruno Kreisky Award for the 2018 Political Book of the Year. Her second book Going Dark: The Secret Social Lives of Extremists was an international bestseller and has been translated into seven languages. It won the award ‘Wissenschaftsbuch des Jahres 2020’ (Science Book of the Year 2020), as well as the Dr Caspar Einem prize and was long listed for the Gold Dagger Award. Her latest book Going Mainstream: How Extremists Are Taking Over has just been released. In 2023, Julia completed her ESRC-sponsored DPhil in Anthropology at Oxford University (St John's college), where she remains a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Social Cohesion. Based on her academic research, Julia has written many peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapter contributions and her DPhil thesis will be published as a book with Columbia University Press. She holds an MSc (Dist) in International History from London School of Economics and an MSc (Dist) in International Relations from Peking University. Julia completed her undergraduate studies with a BA (Hons) in Philosophy and a BSc in International Business.​ Julia is fluent in English, German and French and has intermediate Spanish and Mandarin skills.  Julia co-authored a range of ISD reports, including 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.