My research on social media and admitted overuse of Twitter has taken me on an interesting, and at times disturbing path in the past two years. While exploring the use of social media by the performance artists LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner (specifically their durational artwork HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US, which has been attacked both physically and virtually by internet trolls and neo-Nazis), I came across some sinister corners of the internet where hate groups communicate, organize and work to harass those they hate. Social media apps such as Twitter and Facebook are in the news daily with stories involving free speech, harassment, “fake news” and the spread of propaganda. These problems with social media are not new, their anonymous nature has provided many with outlets to spread misinformation and vitriol and engage in harassing behavior in the past. What does seem to be newer is how the online hate is bubbling up and presenting itself in the real world in many forms from hate speech, marches, and graffiti to acts of physical violence. The President’s Symposium dedicated an entire day to discussions on both physical and virtual acts of hate with suggestions on how those of us in the Rutgers community might address them.
The President’s Symposium featured a number of different speakers and panelists. These speakers included Jeh Johnson, former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Deborah T. Porits, former Chief of the Supreme Court of New Jersey, law professors, law enforcement professionals, lawyers, criminal justice professors, criminal justice students, a representative from the ADL, and Gurbrir S. Grewal, the Attorney General of New Jersey (who announced that bias crimes can now be reported online here: http://www.nj.gov/oag/bias/). All of the speakers provided a wealth of expertise and information along with their valuable insight into the state of incidents of hate locally, nationally, and worldwide. A highlight was the talk by Rabbi Francine Roston who spoke of the attacks on herself, her family, and her congregation in Whitefish, Montana by that town’s infamous resident Richard Spencer, self-proclaimed founder of the alt-right, and Andrew Anglin, head of the Daily Stormer. Her detailed and emotionally charged description of the online harassment and intimidation is an excellent way to understand the more sinister side of social media and misinformation. The story of how quickly false information spread through the online hate groups is important in informing us in libraries just how crucial information literacy skills are in this present state of “fake news”, digital disinformation, and propaganda. Several speakers emphasized the importance of fighting hate with information, presenting facts to counter “fake news,” calling out misinformation when it is observed and being diligent in monitoring the marketplace of ideas. These of course are all things that library professionals have been doing for some time and will continue to do; however, the content of the symposium further emphasizes the importance of information sharing and instruction in the specifically targeted fight against hate. I highly recommend reviewing the agenda and watching some of the content, especially the talk by Rabbi Francine Roston to enhance an understanding of the nature of hate and bias and how it can be countered.
Livestream of the symposium: https://livestream.com/rutgersitv/FightingHate
Rabbi Francine Roston’s talk: https://livestream.com/rutgersitv/FightingHate/videos/172404110