When Mathew Brady published his photographs of the slain soldiers of the Civil War, America was shocked. Never before had we actually seen the torpid dead lying on the battlefield. Brady’s aching photographs brought war right into the living rooms of Americans and changed the face of warfare forever.
A lot has changed since Mathew Brady made war more personal. Never before have the opinions of so many been in the hands of so many – posting, sharing and disseminating opinions and inflammatory pictures and videos without taking the time to be analytic about just whose opinion we are championing or why beyond having had a knee-jerk reaction to it.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Or a video. But what picture? What words? In this age we have to ask if a picture has been doctored. Welcome to 1984. Orwell would be proud.
When social media and conflict collide, the result is a house afire. ISIS has a Twitter account. This is the age of “Performance terrorism”.
Violence. The word sounds just like what it means. Sharp but blunt, a cutting, tearing wound. And after the violence, blood, tears, trauma, pain.
There is a disturbing amount of verbal violence on Facebook about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am discounting the absolute hate-filled nutters – left, right and center. They are not worth discussing because they represent a vitriolic but tiny minority, in actuality. We know that.
No, I am talking about really nice, intelligent, caring people who think they are helping by reposting primarily pictures and videos the sources of which are not vetted, generally not credible, and most certainly not given in context. Context, you see, is everything. The chocolate ration is five grams today.
[Real time update: I just ran to a bomb shelter for what was, conservatively, the 25th time. I shall continue.]
For the most part, these helpful sharers of “information” about the conflict in Israel live comfortably thousands (and thousands) of miles from where this particular conflict is playing out.
I on the other hand, have no doubt in my mind that an invention called The Iron Dome is why I am alive to write this. And I am lucky. Because my fellow humans – 45 miles away from where I live? They do not have this invention. No. They are open to whatever falls from the sky.
One of many marked differences between me and my cousins in Gaza? Is that I have an air conditioner and a laptop and I can write this. And I write it for them. For all of us. Because you all out there? In Facebookland? You are missing the point.
With so much confusing and frightening us today, we are now offered a whole new way to cope – social media. But let us be cautious of these online pitchforks and torches.
Whether you are posting GO Israel! Go IDF! Or “My god, look at this video of Israeli soldiers doing this awful thing!”, you are not standing up for a problem, you just became a part of it.
I find myself posting on Facebook a lot – “I just ran from another siren! This happened to me! This is happening!” It’s my way of screaming WHY?!
And you? Who live thousands of miles away from the Middle East? You want to scream too. So you post something – some video – some logo – some protest. And you say LOOK AT THIS!
Social media is a powerful way for us to communicate and to express and it is good. Until it is bad. Every time you post something that isn’t your personal experience, you have just become a part of someone else’s agenda, of someone’s bias. Most often a bias like “kittehs are cute” or “this recipe looks great” or “I also liked this film” – but what if the bias is something larger, something really relevant – something that can even incite? If you incite for anything you should incite for peace, for understanding, for context and for compassion. Pointing out the likely photoshopped or out of context atrocity which rips your heart out of your chest is likely to incite someone to HATE whomever is deemed as responsible. Incite thought. Incite analysis. Incite critical thinking.
Before you repost something about any conflict anywhere, that you are not directly involved in, ask yourself a few questions about the source.
Warning: This all requires critical thinking, something that takes a moment. Bear with me: it’s worth it.
Is this a credible source? Is the source a person you actually know? A journalist? A peace organization? Or is the source an advocacy group? What or whom do they advocate for? Use Google to find out more.
Does the source have credentials? Does this source have academic, occupational, experiential or any kind of direct involvement in this issue? What do they stand to gain by your sharing the information? With whom are they affiliated?
Is context given? What else was going on in and around that picture, video, etc.? Be critical – LOOK for an agenda. What does your gut say?
What is the intention? What is the post seeking to have you now do? Share? Send money? Be angry? – what? Is/was there any attempt to speak to the other “side” of this issue or conflict? That was reasonable sounding?
Stop right now. Question me. Question what you are reading right this very moment. I have biases. I am a woman, a mother, a Jew, an American, an Israeli, a needer of sunscreen and a pretty good cook. I am from Northern California. I am a person with a history. Of course I have a bias about many things. Google my name. Check me out.
When it comes to the conflict in Israel many are being manipulated into thinking there ARE sides, and that you should – you must – take a stand. Because damn it, from all the way in Philadelphia or London or San Diego – you CARE!
It’s lovely that you care. We all care. But what shall we care about? Empathy fatigue sets in. We must choose something to care about. Abused animals, abused children, rape culture, the war in Ukraine, the war in Syria, the war in Israel, homelessness in the US (well, that one is too commonplace to get particularly worked up about anymore, isn’t it?)
How do we choose what to care about collectively and individually as our attention grows more and more splintered and overwhelmed. We humans tend to just pick up our pitchforks and join the crowd that seems to be going in a particular direction. That is easier, we don’t have to think.
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. ~ Aristotle
The stories that we tell ourselves collectively and individually are powerful.
As an American, I was brought up to believe that the bombing of the civilian populations in Nagasaki and Hiroshima were necessary to end a terrible war. Somewhere between 130,000 and 250,000 individuals – civilians – women and children, were vaporized in seconds. But it was necessary, right? That is the story I was told.
Let me be perfectly clear, if there were no Iron Dome, I would not be writing this. This is a fact. Why does Hamas siphon millions of dollars in aid into housing their absent leaders in luxury in other places? Why did Hamas not use millions of dollars to build shelters for their citizens? My government protects me. I am grateful. But I am not happy about what is happening – do not mistake my gratitude for condoning a war waged in a civilian population.
If you are interested in a diversity of thoughts and opinions about this particular conflict – updates that are serious, funny, sad and articles that are vetted, credible and contextualized, I suggest you like the Facebook page Truth & Beauty in Wartime.
If you’d like to do some in-depth reading and thinking about the conflict in Israel, here is a beginner’s reading list: Damascus Gate (Robert Stone) From Beirut to Jerusalem (Thomas Friedman), Contested Land, Contested Memory (Jo Roberts) The Lemon Tree (Sandy Tolan)
You feel sad and upset? Me too. You want somewhere to focus your anxiety and fear about the state of the world today? Me too. Let’s think globally, act locally and rise above the strong urge to make the conflict in Israel a simple one, with good guys and bad guys.
Criticize your country, where your problems are. Embrace non-violent communication. Exchange ideas. Put down your Facebook and put on your shoes. Go give a helping hand in your community. We don’t need any more torches or pitchforks in the Middle East, in case you may have noticed.
Most importantly, don’t be a mouthpiece for those who are really pulling the strings. Divide and conquer – when you get the populace too riled up to think straight, when they believe in this or that rhetoric – you wield great power. Just ask Nazi Germany. How could that have happened, we ask? How could ordinary Germans, Poles and Austrians have acted so inhumanely? Believe you me, if Facebook had existed preceding and during the second World War, the culture of fear and violence that blossomed into the deaths of over 12 million people would have been twice as effective in half the time.
History repeats itself. Just say no. Object to verbal violence on Facebook through your peaceful dissent of being herded into feeling MORE afraid and MORE separate from the “other”.
It’s not easy – I am telling you it’s not easy. I have a pounding heart on a daily basis. Either from running when another siren goes off, or from reading the local news in Israel, or from thinking about the suffering so very close to where I live. I feel angry! I feel heartbroken!
But the very essence, the very meaning of faith and grace and beauty, is to resist becoming a part of the ugliness, isn’t it?
I think many of us feel almost paralyzed about some of the news today. We want to help but what shall we do?
Here is what you should NOT do: parrot or repost Facebook updates that are on either “side” and that do not use any context. Even better? You can have a look around at the issues in your community and start pitching in there. It might not seem as urgent or exotic as WAR but it is what you can do from where you are.
Think before you post or repost or share the point of view of a “side”. Be part of the solution. If you are a writer – write it down. If you are an artist, paint it. If you are a musician sing a song to someone who is lonely and if you are none of the above, just put on your shoes, walk out the door and find somebody in your community who would like to be read aloud to, or who needs food donated.
Stories matter. Narrative is everything. Be a part of a better story by being a conscientious objector of irresponsible, inflammatory social media wars.
In the words of Mother Theresa:
“I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”