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The Jewish Report Editorial

The scourge of social media

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I fear for our youth, what with the ugly face of social media. This week, there seems – unwittingly – to be a theme to this newspaper. It’s how social media gives people a licence to say and do the most dreadful things, and get away with it. I don’t believe most people would do or say the same things face to face, but on Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, apparently anything goes.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Sep 19, 2019

When reading the story on our front page about the man who let rip last week about Jews, Muslims, black people, and homosexuals, I kept wondering why he would do such a thing. What was he thinking? He clearly didn’t see a potential lawsuit coming his way, and he obviously felt invincible.

Apparently, social media makes people feel this way. They vomit out the worst things, happily insulting and naming and shaming people – being judge, jury, and often hangman too. People are accused of the most horrendous or humiliating things, guilty or not!

The words of professor Anton Harber, one of the most seasoned editors and media educators in this country, were recently twisted so that the meaning of what he said went from censuring someone to defending them. All this led to him being called a racist. Now, I know Harber, and one thing he isn’t is a racist.

And, after publishing an article last week questioning digital vigilantism on social media, my integrity and that of the newspaper was questioned on social media.

In the story, we asked experts about this dilemma, after a teenage girl gave a blow by blow account of being sexually violated by a teenage boy on Twitter, naming and shaming him.

Our story questioned the legality, morality, and efficacy of this type of behaviour. It certainly doesn’t allow for the legal principle of “innocent until proven guilty”.

Social media is not a court of law and, while naming and shaming might be punitive, it certainly isn’t restorative. It won’t stop the scourge of sexual violence in the way that an effective legal justice system can.

Rapists walk free all the time. It’s incumbent on us in this country to make sure that rape survivors are able to report the attacks safely, and see justice done through the criminal justice system. This is a massive task, but one we have to take on and make work. We literally have no choice.

Social-media vigilantism makes it way too easy for people holding a grudge against someone to defile their name and reputation. Once it’s done, there’s no turning back. Once you’re labelled a rapist or sexual predator, it’s almost impossible to walk away from it.

My experience this week of being challenged on Facebook was unpleasant, but then I’m a grown woman with my integrity and self-confidence intact. However, this has made me feel so concerned about the young people of today who are in the firing line of the viciousness spewed all over social media.

What of a young teenage boy who is being bullied? What of a young girl who kisses the wrong boy, and whose name is sullied on social media? What of the guy whose homophobic buddies decide he is gay, and post things about him on social media? What of the boy who is caught on camera doing something embarrassing, and it goes viral on social media?

I could go on and on … It frightens me!

People are taking things too far. It’s so easy to destroy a life, and it could even lead to someone being brutalised or opting for suicide. It’s becoming way too common. What are we doing to each other? How can we do this? Why do we want to make fun of or demean other people?

I understand that women and young girls who are raped or sexually abused feel helpless. I understand that more than most. And I also understand why putting it on social media feels like an easy outlet and a way of naming and shaming without having to go through the emotionally exhausting and painful experience of going to court.

But social media vigilantism is a dangerous game to play. There are other ways of doing it that have a sustainable, restorative outcome.

We need to make sure that the police and courts work properly so that justice is done. Rapists and sexual predators must not be allowed to walk free.

Heritage Day

As we head towards Heritage Day (known to many as Braai Day), I wonder about our legacy in South Africa. Is misogyny part of our heritage? I recently spent time with a woman who told me how she was happily married, but after years of not becoming pregnant, her husband left her. He told her she wasn’t a real woman because she couldn’t bear children. We can really only be free of the rape culture that perpetuates South Africa when men see women as human beings. See the insight of Dr Yael Ziegler on page 10.

In terms of our heritage, do yourself a favour and read about the Jewish heritage tour of Doornfontein on page 14, and celebrate the fact that Terry Kurgan’s book about her heritage won the Alan Paton Award for non-fiction.

So much of our heritage is beautiful and well worth preserving, but some old habits need to change to enhance our future and that of our children.

While social media has brought people together from all walks of life and made our world a global village, let’s route out the dark and dangerous side so that doesn’t become part of our heritage.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Heritage Day!

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