Viral Hate: Containing Its Spread on the Internet

July 11, 2013

071213_mishmash_bookAbraham H. Foxman and Christopher Wolf
Palgrave Macmillan, 2013

It is rather dismaying to read this book’s first hundred or so pages. The authors painstakingly describe the types of bigotry and hate speech that are spreading online and discuss the legal and practical roadblocks in preventing the dissemination of such messages. Even defining hate speech is far from simple. It seems like a hopeless fight.

The last two chapters, however, offer hope. Primarily, they encourage counterspeech and education. When good people are silent in the face of evil, it leaves the impression that the evil is acceptable and even right. Not sending a message of disapproval is a tacit message of approval, and each of us is then responsible for the evil that is permitted to flourish.

Counterspeech is not synonymous with attacking the promulgators of hate speech or of engaging with them. Too often, attacking is playing into their hands, and engaging offers them a platform. But speaking against hate speech in your own online (or offline) forum, and encouraging and supporting others who oppose such speech, will create barriers to the further spread of hate messages.

This message is reminiscent of the Talmudic saying, “It is not your responsibility to complete the job, but nor are you exempt from it entirely” (“Pirkei Avoth” 2:19).

While there may not be a solution to bigotry, there are things we can, and must, do to combat it.
Chayim Lando

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