OpinionIsrael at War

The necessity to speak up

As we wonder how so many western liberals have been drafted into the patently un-liberal cause of Hamas, we must recognize that a significant part of the problem is that Jews and our allies have been too passive.

Social media. Credit: LoboStudioHamburg/Pixabay.
Social media. Credit: LoboStudioHamburg/Pixabay.
Marc Erlbaum
Marc Erlbaum is a filmmaker and the co-founder of Philadelphia's Jewish Relief Agency.

The daily dilemma: You see a post on social media about Israel that is egregiously misleading, and you have to decide whether it is worth it to respond. On the one hand, there is an untruth that needs to be corrected, lest who knows how many others be misinformed. On the other hand, it is likely that if you do comment, a back and forth will ensue with the person who originated the post that will be at least time-consuming, and possibly contentious as well.

Even if you are successful in having a civil exchange with the one who shared the inaccurate or deceptive material, in the age of misinformation and malleable “facts,” it is unlikely that he or she will be convinced, and even more unlikely that the post will be retracted. So the cost in time and emotional engagement, coupled with the risk of being subjected to vicious ad hominem attacks and accusations, makes it difficult to speak up.

Yet it is incredibly important to speak up. Here’s why:

In the 1950s, a psychologist named Solomon Asch conducted a series of “Conformity Experiments” which reveal a fascinating fact about human behavior that is tremendously relevant in the age of social media. In short, the tests comprised a group of eight respondents who were asked to identify simple differences between basic images they were shown. Seven of the eight respondents were hired actors who were secretly instructed to provide the wrong answer. The eighth respondent was not aware of the setup, and in over one third of the cases provided the same wrong answer given by the seven who had answered erroneously before him. When the same subjects were tested individually, without the influence of the group, they answered correctly over 99% of the time.

These findings indicate that people often conform to the prevalent opinions and attitudes of the majority group even when they are demonstrably false and contrary to one’s personal experience. The fact that group influence resulted in wrong answers 33% of the time informs us that if we allow false information to promulgate without contradiction, a significant percentage of people will be swayed even if they do not necessarily agree with that information. 

A variation on the test provided another remarkable finding which strongly reinforces the necessity of speaking up to counter false claims. When Asch introduced a “true partner” to the study—that is, one other respondent who provided the correct answer—then the unwitting subject conformed with the lying majority only 5% of the time. In other words, even though the vast majority of the group still provided the wrong answer, the presence of just one true voice reduced the incidence of conformity almost completely. 

Applying these findings to today’s social media, it is clear that a single comment on a deceptive post can make a significant difference. It may not change the opinion of the poster, but it will have an effect on those who see the post. A single voice of question or challenge will reduce the extent to which the inaccurate post convinces those who are not as educated on the subject.

The fact is that each of us has a part in the war that is raging in Israel and the ideological battle that is being waged online. We may not be carrying a firearm on the front lines to defend innocent civilian lives with our flesh and blood, but we each have a vital role to play and we can’t rely on someone else to handle this for us. In the age of social media, we are all “journalists” capable of influencing those around us.

As we wonder how so many western liberals have been drafted into the patently un-liberal cause of Hamas, we must recognize that a significant part of the problem is that Jews and our allies have been too passive. Confident that we had truth and reason on our side, we felt that we didn’t need to counter every ridiculous statement. But if a lie is repeated enough times, it is eventually accepted as truth—particularly if it is not corrected.

If you don’t know how to best respond to the propaganda in your feed, reach out to those who do. I have had numerous people contact me over the last few months asking me how I would respond to this post or that. It is indeed a time drain, but the importance of this existential battle makes it worth the energy. 

In addition to responding to misinformation, each of us has the opportunity to proactively influence the discourse in our circles. Posting (or sharing) the truth about the history of this conflict will counter the vast amount of lies that are being circulated by Israel’s enemies. If you don’t have sufficient information at your disposal, there are a number of talented Israel advocates (like Noa Tishby, Dani Butler, Lizzy Savetsky, Community.news, and many others) on all of the major platforms who provide a wealth of informative content. Share their posts and let your network know that you are not afraid to stand for the truth.

Silence here is quite literally violence. If we don’t respond, then the enemies of peace and coexistence will continue to deceive and radicalize the masses through the conformity experiments that they have been conducting surreptitiously over the past several decades. We have seen the results, and they are devastating. It is time to step up and be the “true partner” that enabled Asch’s subjects to resist the lying majority and speak the obvious truth. 

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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