By Rabbi Abraham Cooper
The tragedy of Tyler Clementi, a college student, who leapt to his death after his sexual encounter was broadcast online, is the latest example of the power of the virtual world wreaking havoc in the real world. Before committing suicide, he felt compelled to post a goodbye on Facebook.
We at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Digital Terror and Hate Project track the darkest side of the Internet. In 1995, there was one “hate site.” In 2010 we’re tracking over 12,500 problematic websites, newsgroups, blogs, and increasingly Facebook and other social networks. Now parallel to the Jewish Holy Days, there has been a spike in virulent anti-Semitic Facebook pages, with over two- dozen titles like “Kill a Jew Year” and “Kill a Jew Day” this past week alone. Some originate from the US, others from abroad. Are they just words? In the real world, hateful words have consequences, with hate crimes against Jews and other minorities a brutal fact of life on both sides of the Atlantic. Also, consider that “Kill a Jew” campaign mimics last November’s “Kick a Ginger Day,” which resulted in numerous assaults against redheads.
The issue here is not only Facebook or YouTube, who meet with us frequently about these issues. They must do more to block haters who leverage social networks to launch serial bigotry against “the enemy,” recruit and even fundraise. But the wider online community also must act. You can do more by sending us problematic links to firstname.lastname@example.org > ; we’ll notify Facebook, Google, Yahoo et al. It’s also time for parents and peers alike to take the power of social networking as seriously as the bigots and terrorists do. Talk to your kids, classmates and friends. Who knows the next life you save maybe someone you love.