In wake of suicide, social media expert calls for compassion when posting online

The responses on Facebook, such as likes, shares, and comments, says Ravid, validates and empowers people's opinions in their own minds, even when that share is to disagree with the original post.

People are silhouetted as they pose with mobile devices in front of a screen projected with a Facebook logo. (photo credit: REUTERS)
People are silhouetted as they pose with mobile devices in front of a screen projected with a Facebook logo.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The phenomenon of sharing stories is one that has always been around, but the Internet has strengthened the power of the information making it possible for stories to go viral and spread around the world very quickly rather than staying local and only being told to a small circle of friends, an expert on social networks told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
“We are all guilty and no one is guilty,” said Dr. Gilad Ravid, a lecturer and researcher of social networks from the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, addressing the phenomenon of shaming on social networks following the suicide over the weekend of Ariel Ronis, a manager at the Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Crossing Authority (PIBA), after a Facebook post accusing him of racism went viral last week.
The responses on Facebook, such as likes, shares and comments, Ravid said, validate and empower people’s opinions in their own minds, even when that share is to disagree with the original post.
“Posts that are relatively short, properly worded, slightly entertaining or frustrating,” are the most likely to get passed on, he said, pointing out that for every post that goes viral, there are dozens more that garner very little attention, if at all.
He also cited the timeliness of the topic of the post and the use of buzzwords, in this case, saying it hit all the right notes, including the use of the term “racism,” which has been in the media for weeks due to the demonstrations by the Ethiopian- Israeli community. Had the post been about a woman who was frustrated about waiting in line for two hours at PIBA, Ravid said, it probably wouldn’t have gotten more than a few likes.
Ravid said everyone has a hand in what happened to Ronis from the woman who published the post, the people who liked and shared it on Facebook, and the traditional media.
In particular, Ravid cited Channel 10, which reported the story without hearing the other side and properly investigating the case.
“We’re used to consuming traditional media,” said Ravid of the moral responsibility of every individual on social media. “We now have a natural tendency to think that everything we read is true. If it’s written, is must have happened.”
However, Ravid says that, as social media users, we have a new obligation in the same way a reporter does to investigate cases and make sure we are passing on information that is true. “When we share or like or re-tweet, we need to understand that we are now part of the process,” he said.
Ravid stressed that sharing can be done responsibly, allowing individuals to exercise their right to express opinions, if they bear in mind that there is a real human being on the other side of the story and that they, their careers, their families and their lives are on the line.
“There is something positive in the phenomenon [of sharing online] but we have to remember that there is a person on the other side of the story,” he said.
Orna Hellinger, director of the Center for Safe Internet, which is part of the Israel Internet Association, released a statement on Monday addressing the situation, saying that since the start of the year the center’s hotline has received more than 1,200 calls about online offenses.
“We see no difference between cyber-bullying and shaming, both are dangerous, both make cynical use of the Internet and adversely take advantage of its power,” Hellinger said.
“From the tragic case of Ariel Ronis, we learn, again, that online offenses are no less destructive than any other case of violence and sometimes even more so – the speed at which a person is brought to trial in the town square, without the users knowing or recognizing the full picture is dangerous, both for those involved and their surroundings.
Therefore, we call on the Israeli public to exercise judgment and not to share or participate in these incidents.”