Me­dia have changed, but mes­sages of hate re­main.

The Norwalk Hour - - FRONT PAGE - By Amanda Cuda

Fair­field Univer­sity his­tory pro­fes­sor Gavriel Rosen­feld no­tices dis­turb­ing echoes in the Oct. 27 shooting that killed 11 peo­ple at a Pitts­burgh syn­a­gogue.

The syn­a­gogue shooting took place roughly two weeks be­fore the 80th an­niver­sary of Kristall­nacht, “the night of bro­ken glass,” which be­gan Nov. 9, 1938, in Ger­many, and in which about 30,000 Jewish men were ar­rested and sent to con­cen­tra­tion camps, and about 100 Jews were killed.

The Pitts­burgh shooting high­lights a par­al­lel be­tween Nazi Ger­many and some of the vi­o­lence hap­pen­ing to­day, Rosen­feld said.

Then as now, some peo­ple have been rad­i­cal­ized through ex­po­sure to writ­ing, pho­tos or other ma­te­ri­als de­mo­niz­ing other sec­tors of the pop­u­la­tion.

In Nazi Ger­many, it was state-sanc­tioned pro­pa­ganda that fu­eled the hate, in­clud­ing ex­trem­ist films and lit­er­a­ture.

Mod­ern day in­flam­ma­tory speech doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily come from govern­ment; it can come from or­ga­ni­za­tions and in­di­vid­u­als seek­ing to find — or cre­ate — like­minded com­rades.

Many of those mes­sages are spread on­line.

The man ar­rested in the syn­a­gogue shoot­ings, Robert Bow­ers, reg­u­larly posted anti-Semitic the­o­ries and memes on a so­cial me­dia site called Gab, which was sus­pended in the wake of the shoot­ings, but was back on­line about a week later.

“There is a big dif­fer­ence be­tween what ex­isted in the ’30s and what ex­ists on the in­ter­net to­day,” Rosen­feld said. “This is what we call the demo­cratic char­ac­ter of the in­ter­net in its ugli­est form.”

De­spite that dif­fer­ence, Rosen­feld and other ex­perts see a direct line be­tween the way peo­ple were in­flu­enced by Nazi pro­pa­ganda and the ef­fect of mod­ern so­cial me­dia.

Anat Bilet­zki, an Albert Sch­weitzer pro­fes­sor of phi­los­o­phy at Quin­nip­iac Univer­sity, said it’s not hard to draw a con­nec­tion be­tween vi­o­lence then and now — “a cer­tain sec­tor of the so­ci­ety gets caught up in a cer­tain dis­course, and it changes some­thing in the at­mos­phere and the way peo­ple lis­ten and talk.”

What is pro­pa­ganda?

Rosen­feld said what’s hap­pen­ing on sites like Gab, Face­book and In­sta­gram isn’t tech­ni­cally pro­pa­ganda, be­cause it’s not com­ing from a govern­ment.

But mod­ern, so­cial me­dia con­tent — from or­ga­nized groups and lone dis­trib­u­tors — does con­form with other def­i­ni­tions of the term.

Ac­cord­ing to the In­sti­tute for Pro­pa­ganda Anal­y­sis, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that ex­isted from 1937 to the early 1940s — a time that en­com­passed the rise of Ger­many’s Third Re­ich — pro­pa­ganda is “ex­pres­sion of opin­ion or ac­tion by in­di­vid­u­als or groups with ref­er­ence to pre­de­ter­mined ends.”

In a doc­u­ment called “How to De­tect Pro­pa­ganda,” in­sti­tute re­searchers said “Of­ten the pro­pa­gan­dist does not want care­ful scru­tiny and crit­i­cism; he wants to bring about a spe­cific ac­tion.” The doc­u­ment the­o­rized pro­pa­ganda works be­cause it ap­peals to emo­tion rather than rea­son.

“They make us be­lieve and do some­thing we would not be­lieve or do if we thought about it calmly, dis­pas­sion­ately,” the doc­u­ment reads. “In ex­am­in­ing th­ese de­vices, note that they work most ef­fec­tively at those times when we are too lazy to think for our­selves; also, they tie into emo­tions which sway us to be ‘for’ or ‘against’ na­tions, races, re­li­gions, ideals” and so on.

Rosen­feld had a much sim­pler clas­si­fi­ca­tion for the anti-Semitic, racist and other­wise dis­crim­i­na­tory ma­te­rial pop­u­lat­ing much of so­cial me­dia.

“It’s pure, unadul­ter­ated ha­tred,” he said.

Vul­ner­a­ble to the mes­sage

Rosen­feld said the hate spewed in cer­tain cor­ners of so­cial me­dia is de­signed to in­flu­ence.

“My hunch is that peo­ple who spent all their lives on­line are not (en­gag­ing) in other ways,” Rosen­feld said.

Again, he likened this to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, who he said had no real fam­ily and sought mean­ing else­where — first through the mil­i­tary, then through ex­trem­ist pol­i­tics.

Rosen­feld said he doesn’t be­lieve most peo­ple swayed by hate­ful ma­te­ri­als were born racist or anti-Semitic. Rather, their thoughts and ideas were shaped by ex­po­sure to cer­tain mes­sages.

Bilet­zki, mean­while, said her the­ory is that pro­pa­ganda ap­peals to those who are “lonely, gullible, maybe bit­ter.”

She said some peo­ple who latch onto hate­ful mes­sages might be taking their cues from those in lead­er­ship po­si­tions — some­times specif­i­cally from Pres­i­dent Donald Trump. In­deed, crit­ics of Trump have de­nounced what they see as his dis­crim­i­na­tory poli­cies re­gard­ing im­mi­grants, Mus­lims and other groups, and have said his rhetoric in­flames pos­si­ble vi­o­lent ten­den­cies in cer­tain mem­bers of his base.

De­fend­ers of Trump have pushed back at that char­ac­ter­i­za­tion, say­ing he is not to blame for the shooting in Pitts­burgh or other acts of vi­o­lence, in­clud­ing the pipe bombs mailed to prom­i­nent Democrats, mem­bers of the me­dia and oth­ers who have crit­i­cized or been crit­i­cized by Trump.

Rosen­feld said, the phe­nom­e­non of peo­ple mo­ti­vated to hate­ful ac­tions by words and im­ages isn’t new.

“I think, for those who study anti-Semitism and his­tory in gen­eral, this isn’t sur­pris­ing,” he said. “This has hap­pened a bil­lion times be­fore.”

Di­ether Endlicher / AP

A pro­pa­ganda poster of Adolf Hitler con­trasts with pho­to­graphs of vic­tims of the Nazi era at the en­trance to the doc­u­men­ta­tion cen­ter on the Third Re­ich on Ober­salzberg moun­tain in Ber­cht­es­gaden, Ger­many.

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