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the pulpit

Improving online discourse starts with all of us

Let us pause, take a deep breath and remember that flagrant and hurtful language doesn’t get us anywhere.   

Social-media icons. Credit: TY Lim.
Social-media icons. Credit: TY Lim.
Isaac Herzog. Source: Facebook.
Isaac Herzog

Tell me, what on earth is going on with us? How did our discourse become so inflammatory, extreme and unrestrained? How have social-media platforms become an arena where seemingly everything goes, where anyone and anything can be dragged through the mud, humiliated, scorned—where any adversary, or just someone with a differing opinion, can be treated as an enemy?

It’s hard to argue that social media hasn’t done a lot of good for the world. These networks give voice to a wide range of opinions and create well-intentioned communities seeking to do good, help and support others, and even save lives. Today, however, there’s no doubt that the boundaries aren’t clear enough, and that these praiseworthy platforms are also a vehicle for bullying, intimidation and violence. We are all exposed to insults and obscenities that we must not accept. We must put an end to the undue suffering.

We need to change this extreme and incendiary discourse. The ability to facilitate this change starts with each and every one of us, on our cellphones and keyboards. Before we post another derogatory comment just because we can, before we slander or berate anyone who disagrees with us, let us pause, take a deep breath and remember: Flagrant and hurtful language doesn’t get us anywhere. It only causes damage.

And beyond hurting the person we are targeting, it first and foremost hurts us all: our society, our ability to live here together, to build a common future together. This is the most fundamental and necessary level—the level where we personally put an end to keyboard violence.

There’s another level, of bringing light and good into the world. After all, words have tremendous power. They can create reality and change it, they can be destructive, but they also have the power to rebuild and rehabilitate.

Therefore, in the belief that we are capable of coming together to alter our discourse on social media, I call on all of us to “Think Hard” and invite you to join a campaign that we are currently launching to encourage different conduct on social media.

If we change the atmosphere, if we lift others a little more, every one of us, if we see the good, are generous with praise, if we can be a light unto others, I’m certain that together we can forge a more pleasant public space conducive to improving our shared lives here in this beautiful country. In the words of Jerusalemite poet Yehuda Amichai: “In this burning land, words must provide shade.”

I will repeat here what said in my inauguration speech as president: Let us choose, every day anew, ourselves. Let us win together, as opposed to just beating each other. Let’s choose happiness and joy, and extinguish the flame of hate with the Israeli spirit and love for our country.

Let us choose to be united not just in values and principles, but also in our hopes and dreams. I believe in us. I believe that if we think positively, and type positively, good will come.

Isaac Herzog is the president of the State of Israel.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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