Vast majority of Israelis say social media discourse is violent - poll

Two-thirds believe online discourse has become more radicalized since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

SOCIAL MEDIA GIANT Twitter (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A new survey conducted by the Israeli Internet Association has found that 86% of Israelis think discourse on social media platforms is violent, with 66% saying that it has become more radicalized since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
The same survey found that 80% of respondents believe Israeli politicians and public figures are to blame for the rhetoric due to sharing violent discourse online.
The focus of the survey was on the degree that Israelis perceive social media as a conduit for extremism and offensive and abusive discourse, which come in light of the ongoing debate in the United States, Europe and elsewhere over censoring social media content.
In contrast to the initial survey results, only seven percent of Israelis believe that social media discourse has become more moderate. Likewise, 20% who have personally been attacked online said they blocked their harasser, in addition to nine percent who reported it to social media moderators, and five percent who contacted the police. Similarly, seven percent simply let the online harassment go and did nothing.  
Another consequence of violent rhetoric online, the survey found, is self-censorship, as more than half (53%) said they avoided or tried to avoid posting comments online in fear of violent reactions, along with two-thirds (65%) who said they think twice before posting on social media. Some 25% of respondents think they can express themselves freely online.
"One of the dire consequences of the violent discourse on the Internet is the threat to the moderate participants," says Orna Heilinger, director of Netica (formerly the Safe Internet Center) at the Israeli Internet Association.
"When there is a heated and violent discourse and a moderate participant refrains from reacting for fear that the violence will be directed at them, the violent elements only inflame the discussion and the result is that more and more moderates refrain from taking part in the discourse," she said.
In assessing possible solutions, the survey asked respondents what should be done to temper online discourse. Some 63% said that blocking people using violent rhetoric is the solution, but it should only be done by website administrators, as opposed to government officials. Another 38% said that the responsibility should be that of social media websites, in which 32% believe violent rhetoric on social media should be restricted.
In contrast, 22% indicated that people posting violent rhetoric should be ignored, and five percent said people should respond to violent rhetoric using similar language.
When asked who is responsible for violent discourse on social media platforms, 62% said it was the platforms themselves, while 51% blamed the administrators of the online communities that exist on these platforms. Another 52% said the responsibility is on the user, and 45% think the police are responsible. Some 26% blame the government, and five percent say no one is responsible, and that it is a matter of free expression.
The vast majority of 82% say they want a body set up to examine and find solutions to temper violent discourse online.
The survey was conducted among 700 adult Internet users by the Geocartography Institute, and included a representative sample of Israeli Jews and Arabs.