May 26, 2020 / 5:03 PM / 2 months ago

Fact check: Climate change skeptic Naomi Seibt was not banned from social media for her views and she is appealing a regulator’s order to remove two videos

Update: May 28, 2020

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

This article has been updated to include a response from Naomi Seibt, who is appealing the ruling made by the Landesanstalt für Medien NRW (Nordrhein-Westfalen) that ordered the removal of two of her YouTube videos. The headline and verdict of this article have been updated to reflect the fact that a final decision is pending. Reuters contacted Seibt prior to publication but did not receive a response until after this article was published.

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A widely shared post on social media makes the claim that 19-year-old German climate change skeptic Naomi Seibt has been fined and banned from social media for expressing disagreement with climate activist Greta Thunberg, known for organizing youth climate strikes ‘Fridays for Future’. This claim contains some inaccurate information. 

The post makes the claim that while Thunberg has been praised by the media, Seibt is now “banned from YouTube, Facebook and many other social media platforms”, as well as “fined the equivalent of $400 by authorities in her region of Germany for the crime of being ‘not climate friendly’.” ( here

Seibt — an influencer and YouTube personality — has garnered controversy for denouncing what she has called “climate alarmism”, and for calling climate consciousness “a despicably anti-human ideology” ( here ).  

Her public image has prompted comparisons with Thunberg, covered widely by the press for her vocal climate activism. Seibt has adopted some of Thunberg’s communication for her own purposes, such as the cry popularly associated with Thunberg’s address before the UN Climate Action summit last year: “How dare you?” ( here

In February 2020, Seibt joined the Heartland Institute—a right-wing American think-tank—to work on “communicating the climate realism message to her generation – which has marinated in apocalyptic nonsense their whole lives – for audiences in Europe and the United States,” according to a press release ( here ). 

Heartland, according to the Washington Post, is concerned that Berlin’s environmental policies could begin to spread overseas ( here ). James Taylor, director of the Arthur B. Robinson Center for Climate and Environmental Policy, told the Post that Seibt was a “fantastic voice for free markets and for climate realism.” 

In late February, some outlets reported that Seibt “has previously described a white nationalist who appeared to promote ‘white genocide’ theories as one of her ‘inspirations’” ( here  ;  here ). Seibt has also spoken at events run by Germany’s far-right AfD (Alternative for Germany) party, although she has denied formally being in the party, according to the Independent ( here ). 

As of May 21, 2020, Seibt’s YouTube ( here ) Facebook ( here ) and Twitter ( twitter.com/SeibtNaomi ) profiles, however, are all active. The claim that social media platforms have deleted her accounts for the views she has expressed is untrue.  

In April, Seibt posted a video on YouTube where she explained, in German, that she had chosen not to renew her three-month contract with the Heartland Institute. She claimed that her affiliation to Heartland resulted in the Landesanstalt für Medien NRW (Nordrhein-Westfalen) — a regional supervisory authority for private broadcasting — threatening to delete her YouTube account and her videos, alleging that through her collaboration with the American think-tank, she was spreading U.S. conspiracy theories in Germany ( here ). Seibt claimed that the allegation was not true, and that it violated her freedom of expression. 

A fundraising page for Seibt found on Climate Intelligence (CLINTEL) - an independent foundation that operates in the fields of climate change and policy - puts the situation in different terms. It claims that according to the Landesanstalt für Medien NRW, Seibt had advocated against Germany’s climate policies while also discussing her ties to Heartland ( here ). The page later claims that the authorities “demanded a fine of about $400 and costs on top, and instructed Naomi that she must not mention the Heartland Institute in her videos. The insubstantial ground for this attempt at silencing Naomi was that such mentions constituted unlawful product placement under a recently-enacted law of the North-Rhine Westphalia region.” 

The Landesanstalt für Medien NRW confirmed to Reuters via email that it did not issue a fine to Seibt: 

“Ms. Seibt was requested to delete two YouTube videos because they violate German law. The basis of our decision is the prohibition of third party influence on the editorial content in audiovisual media according to articles 7 para. 7 sentence 1 in connection with 58 para. 3 sentence 1 of the Interstate Broadcasting Treaty (Rundfunkstaatsvertrag-RStV). 

“Ms. Seibt was heard on the facts of the case. Her statement was not able to invalidate the accusation of illegal thematic placement (in German „Themenplatzierung”). Unlike in America, in Germany it is prohibited by law to provide media content, if a third party has exerted influence on it and if the cooperation is based on a compensation. Unlike in America, in Germany Freedom of speech is not touched by this ban.”

In an emailed letter to Reuters, Seibt’s legal representative said Seibt had requested an extension of time to respond to the Landesanstalt für Medien NRW’s allegations and had not received a reply. The Landesanstalt für Medien NRW told Reuters it maintained that Seibt was given sufficient time to respond.

Seibt has since appealed against the decision and a court will now decide whether or not she must delete the videos. If the court upholds the decision of the Landesanstalt für Medien NRW, Seibt will either be ordered to remove the videos or pay a fine.

Seibt’s legal representative additionally told Reuters that Seibt felt her freedom of expression was affected by the German ban on thematic placement.

VERDICT

False. Naomi Seibt was not banned from social media platforms. Regional German telecommunication regulators have not fined Seibt, but have requested she delete two YouTube videos for violating German law. Seibt has appealed this decision and the matter will now be decided by a court.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts  here  . 

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