Ariane Friedrich, a German Olympic high-jump hopeful, knows how to pull a
tough face, a gun and, it seems, a fast one on a fan who sent her an
obscene message over Facebook.
Ms. Friedrich, a police officer by
training, publicly rejected a sexually explicit overture from a fan on
her Facebook wall, in which she named the sender and gave the city where
he lives. She also warned that she had filed a complaint with the
"There is simply a point where enough is enough," Ms.
Friedrich wrote in German on Saturday in response to the flood of
comments her post had generated. "It's time to act, it's time to defend
myself. And that is what I am doing. Nothing more and nothing less."
stand has set off a stir in a country where the right to privacy is
sacrosanct but the laws protecting it were written mostly for another,
pre-Internet era. Since Ms. Friedrich made her initial post on April 16,
outing her accused offender, new and old media alike have debated the
appropriateness - and legality - of her action.
More than 10,000
people have posted comments on her Facebook page, split between those
who cheered her decision as bold move against sexual harassment, and
those who chastised her for "vigilante justice." The "likes" on her
Facebook page have jumped from 8,000 to 12,000. Newspapers and
television have picked up the controversy as well.
very strict privacy laws that protect an individual's right to determine
whether their name and address can be published. Newspapers, for
instance, do not publish the names of offenders, in an effort to prevent
them from being marked after their release from prison. Consequently,
the idea that a victim can decide to broadcast a name over the Internet
is a charged, and uncharted, issue here.
"Something like this is
new, we have not had an incident in this form before in Germany," said
Helmut K. Ruster of Weisser Ring, an organization that promotes victims'
Germany has struggled to reconcile its sensibilities with
the speed and breadth of the dissemination of information in the
Internet age. In recent years, rights groups in Germany have taken on
Google for collecting private information while mapping out cities for
its Street View service. They have asked Apple to explain how it
collects data for the iPhone, and they have challenged Facebook after it
changed its default settings to reveal more of individual users'
But Ms. Friedrich's actions have taken the debate
into the realm of sexual harassment and punishment. The initial
responses on her Facebook page to her posting were mostly positive,
praising her step as "the right thing to do" and "the only way to bring
such cowards to justice." Yet it did not take long before the first
questions were raised over whether it was right to publicly denounce a
"In principle, I think that your position is right,"
read one comment posted on her page. "But by publishing his name and
city where this man lives, you are bringing his family in the line of
fire and that is not O.K."
Ms. Friedrich's coach, Gunter Eisinger,
said in a telephone interview that the athlete was not making any
further comments on the posting and even he had been cautioned by
prosecutors and the police not to make any statements, although he
welcomed the chance to note that Ms. Friedrich's training "is going
But over the weekend, he told the German news agency DPA
that he feared that the level of hysteria over the posting could cause
Ms. Friedrich undue stress that might endanger her chances during the
Olympic Games in London, fewer than 100 days away.
"We don't need any stress right now," Mr. Eisinger said.
Niko Harting, a lawyer specializing in media and Internet law, points
out, the legality of the issue hinges on the question of whether the man
named by Ms. Friedrich, who has become a public personality in Germany
since placing seventh in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, actually wrote
and sent her the message.
"It all hangs on one question: Is it true or false?" Mr. Harting said. "If it is true, then she is allowed to post it."
debate in the German media, traditional and social, has been emotional
and heavily focused on whether it is acceptable for a victim to publicly
name a perpetrator, turning the tables in such a way as though Ms.
Friedrich was the perpetrator.
"Ms. Friedrich has pilloried the
man," the Suddeutsche Zeitung wrote on Monday, while Der Spiegel asked,
"Did Ariane Friedrich do the right thing?"
Ms. Friedrich, 28, who
is known for the fierce faces she makes while engrossed in her sport,
has never shied from public attention.
Her hair switches from
platinum blonde to bright pink and her fingernails are often painted in
the black-red-gold of the German flag.
Her postings on Facebook
range from updates on her health, she missed last year's season because
of a ruptured Achilles tendon, to her preparations for the Olympics, to
styled photographs in shot for glossy magazines.
Germany has a
longstanding law protecting the secrecy of the mail, meaning that
private communication between two individuals cannot be published or
viewed by anyone else without both sender and receiver agreeing to it.
The Internet age has time has put that to the test as well.
e-mail exchanges are protected under this law. Consequently, Thomas
Hoeren, a media law professor at the University of Munster, argued that
because the disputed message, although unsolicited, was sent to Ms.
Friedrich through Facebook's private message system, it would also be
legally viewed as a letter.
"People seem to think that they can
say anything at all over Facebook," Mr. Hoeren said. "What they seem to
forget is that we are living in a mass media world and what is posted on
Facebook immediately reaches the wider public."