It sounds like a rhetorical question: Is it okay to insult the elderly? Or to mock and threaten Holocaust survivors? Of course not, any reasonable person would agree. There are laws, there are rules. But laws and rules are only as good as their implementation. The sober answer in reality is you can do it all, even when you're not allowed to, because there are almost never any consequences. Everything is lacking, from prevention and education to prosecution.
The current case of Lily Ebert makes this particularly clear. The Auschwitz survivor, a venerable 97 years old, started working with her great-grandson Dov Forman to provide information about the Holocaust on the social media platform TikTok. Recently, when she simply wished her followers a peaceful weekend during the Hamas attacks on Israel, she was met with a wave of hate and insults from anonymous people on the web.
After numerous complaints and media reports, TikTok responded relatively quickly. And yet: What's done is done. An insult is not undone by the fact that the post has been taken down. The hate and threats leave an impact that extend beyond the moment. And everyone knows that it can happen every day, because there are no consequences.
Another bitter realization is that self-protection is practically impossible. If you want to escape online hate, you need to avoid and leave social media entirely. As Jews we are familiar with this in real life - in some places and at some times, we dare not go out on the street wearing a kippah.
Yet disconnecting from social media would mean withdrawing from the public and from society, voluntarily entering the ghetto, so to speak. It would be a victory for all antisemites and we will not allow that, we will not back down.
But what we can do is demand that society, legislators, the executive and social media companies must do more to protect us. Israel has the "Iron Dome" to protect its civilians from Hamas’s rocket fire, but where is the protective shield against the bombardment of online hate?
Who protects us Jews all over the world from becoming the targets of verbal aggression daily, knowing as we do full well that there are enough deranged people and fanatics who are just waiting for an opportunity to turn hateful words into actions?
The World Jewish Congress never ceases to remind politicians of their obligations, evaluating them by the effectiveness of their actions. Social media companies have as great a responsibility. In our conversations with Facebook, Twitter and more recently with TikTok, we have seen some progress. But too much is still reactive, serving only to remove the poison that should never have flowed into the veins of modern communications in the first place.
Social media channels are veritable hothouses of hate. In the emotional heat generated in the online bubble, aggression grows faster than a real environment would allow. The operators of the platforms are well aware of this emotional dimension, as it is the guarantor of their functioning: Connecting like-minded people is their business model.
The question of how this business model can work and at the same time prevent the toxic accumulation of hate and conspiracy myths remains unresolved. Social media are not closed areas; they are always part of the public sphere. Posts are quoted, copied, disseminated. No newspaper could afford to publish letters to the editor with content like the ones we find daily in our worldwide monitoring at the World Jewish Congress.
"What are you proposing?" is something I am often asked. Besides the fact that the WJC offers a variety of practical discussions on the topic of online hate, reports many violations, and repeatedly demands effective criminal prosecution, there is a very simple answer: It is simply not our job!
Would the victim of a robbery be asked for suggestions on how to track down the perpetrators? Do victims of crime in general also need to be made responsible for detection or prevention? Preventing hate, insults and crimes should rather be a matter of course for providers and the authorities.
On the other hand, over 75 years after the Holocaust, survivors continue to recount their terrible experiences. For many, it requires a new feat of strength each time to recall the suffering they endured. It is a feat they undertake for our sake and for the sake of future generations. Today, however, it requires more courage than ever before to expose oneself to the potential hostility associated with sharing these experiences, especially online. Effective protection is necessary for us all, but most especially for those who survived the horrors of the Holocaust.