Herzog was wise to join anti cyberbullying campaign - editorial

President Herzog rightfully decided to champion the fight against toxic online discourse, and 'encourage a more conciliatory and inclusive discourse on social media instead of hurtful rhetoric.'

 President Isaac Herzog. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
President Isaac Herzog.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

President Isaac Herzog is to be lauded for the campaign he launched in conjunction with Meta (Facebook) in Israel last week titled “Think Good,” aimed at transforming the online discourse in Israel.

In an op-ed published in The Jerusalem Post on December 9, Herzog explained what his initiative was about. 

“I believe that if we think good thoughts and type good words, good will surely follow,” he stated.

Explaining that the discourse on social media has become violent, extreme and unrestrained, Herzog urges us all to think before we post negative expressions on social media.

“How did social media become a place where nothing seems to be off-limits, where people feel free to bad-mouth others, humiliate them, denigrate them, and treat rivals or simply people with different opinions as enemies?” he asks. “We have to change this extreme and violent discourse. This change begins with the keyboards and smartphones of each and every one of us. 

 Adi Soffer Teeni, General Manager, Facebook Israel (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) Adi Soffer Teeni, General Manager, Facebook Israel (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

“Just before sending out another insulting reply, simply because we can, and just before we use our words to sully or trample on people who see things differently from us, we have to stop, take a deep breath, and remember: Foul language and hurtful words never do any good. They only cause harm. They harm not only the individuals we attack. First and foremost, they harm all of us. They harm our society, and our ability to live here together and build a shared future together. This is the first necessary step, to put an end to keyboard violence.”

Words carry incredible power, the power to create new realities and to transform them; the power to destroy, but also to rebuild. Therefore, believing in our ability to transform our social media discourse, I call on all of us to think good thoughts and I invite you all to join our campaign to encourage a different way of behaving online.”

Finally, Herzog echoed the appeal he made in his inaugural address on July 7, “Let us choose, every day anew, a sense of ‘us.’ Let us choose to win together, not to win out over each other. Let us choose to be gracious, to extinguish the flames of hatred with the Israeli spirit, to be generous in our love of Israel. Let us choose to be united, not only in our principles and values but also in our hopes and dreams.”

The campaign seeks to reveal “the most vulgar and hurtful replies received by public figures, who will publicly reveal to their millions of followers the tremendous power of words – words that can still hurt content creators with hundreds of thousands of followers, as well as ministers and members of Knesset confronting daily criticism. The campaign seeks to raise public awareness about the consequences of online bullying and to encourage a more conciliatory and inclusive discourse on social media instead of hurtful rhetoric.”

Some of the participants, the campaign noted, will specifically address young audiences, as part of a collaboration with the youth website, Frogi, in which young stars will share with other youth tips to stay safe online.

Among those who joined Herzog’s campaign are Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, MKs Miri Regev and Miki Zohar, as well as other opinion leaders and celebrities. Perhaps the most significant is Adi Soffer-Teeni, the country director of Meta in Israel.

“I thank everyone who agreed to bravely reveal the ugliest words that people have written to them, in order to lead such an important initiative against bullying, harmful content, and violent language online,” she said. “We have an uncompromising commitment to provide a safe and positive experience for the billions of people using our platforms.”

We can all become part of Herzog’s campaign, and our fervent hope is that it will spread around the Diaspora and the world, in a way that only social media can do. We urge global and religious leaders – particularly Jewish leaders – to follow Herzog’s example and take a leading role themselves to stop hatred on social media. 

But let’s start here in Israel, beginning with ourselves and our own posts on social media.

As Herzog wrote, “If we change the atmosphere, if we lift each other up, if we see the good in each other, compliment each other, shine our inner light and help others shine theirs, I am confident that together we can create a more pleasant public space, for the sake of our shared life here in this beautiful land.”