Shortly after the clashes in Ukraine, the apparently silent Israeli-Palestinian conflict reignited, at least in the Western media. A few months later, more blood, death and hostages between polarised information and a desperate plea for peace. Diversity has historically been a potential source of friction and misunderstanding.
In A War and Peace in the Global Village, the famous communication theorist, Marshall McLuhan (1968), expressed his concern about the birth of the “global village” in the age of computers and networks, because the sharing of a single space (public) by millions of individuals and different cultures would have created a great electronic re-tribalisation, making individuals only apparently all “brothers”, preventing solidarity and love between them.
In his essay Communication in a global village, Dean Barnlund (1998), analysing the idea proposed by McLuhan regarding the concept of alienation and the ongoing communicative and media changes, wondered whether and in what way the new “inhabitants” would have respected and valued the differences of their “neighbours” or, on the contrary, whether the “inhabitants” would have turned into a group of strangers living in ghettos united by mutual dislike, the differences of their “neighbours” or, on the contrary, whether the “villagers” would soon be transformed into a group of strangers living in ghettos, united only by mutual antipathy, and also questioned how politics and institutions had acted to mitigate conflicts within communities.
Throughout history it has been almost impossible to avoid contact with difference, so that in most cases the first reactions, including political ones, have been to avoid or culturally modify those who are different from us, or, in more extreme cases, to eliminate them.
The examples of genocide or individual cases of crimes committed out of hatred are rather recent episodes and mainly concern the re-emergence of racist and xenophobic attitudes.
Among the phenomena of hostility and aggression towards “others”, anti-Semitism has been a particular and growing phenomenon throughout Europe in recent years.
It is, in fact, an ancient hatred, the “longest” in the history of mankind, expressed against the Jews as such (or, as Jean-Paul Sartre already observed, often even in the absence of Jews), but which today takes on new faces and new characters depending on the social, cultural and political context in which we live. In particular, around 27 January each year, the day of remembrance, acts of anti-Semitism are regularly recorded, even in Italy (Buoncompagni, 2023).
The depiction of Stars of David or swastikas on the doors of the homes of deportees and partisans, offensive and anti-Semitic writings in front of schools, etc., are a recent example. Many episodes are linked to (historical-institutional) events in which Jews and/or the State of Israel are protagonists: Remembrance Day, the Giro d’Italia starting in Israel and the celebration of Israel’s 70th anniversary, the clashes in Gaza and the nomination of Liliana Segre as senator for life.
One wonders if these acts do not represent a further step in a process described by the Anti-Defamation League’s so-called “pyramid of hate”: from the base of an increasingly trivialised racist or anti-Semitic language, we move on to occasional gestures that gradually become more frequent ( Santerini , 2020).
One of the aspects that characterises recent forms of anti-Semitism is its growing and worrying spread on the Internet, alongside the now numerous expressions of hate speech.
Marwick and Rebecca Lewis (2017) have highlighted.
Briefly, a first point concerns the definition of the two phenomena.
Hate crimes are crimes, as defined by a legal system, motivated by prejudice based on a specific characteristic of the victim. Hate speech, on the other hand, is the incitement, promotion or incitement to vilification, hatred or defamation of a person or group of persons on grounds such as race, colour, religion or sex.
The second aspect concerns the actors involved in these phenomena: victims, executioners, judges and narrators. Specifically, the actions of organised groups of a discriminatory, racist or sexist nature, the casual and unstructured interventions of ordinary citizens who attack personalised targets, the communication of individuals or groups who strike “for fun”, the provocateurs who act “for fun” or challenge (trolls), the ideologists of violence or terrorism, but also some influencers, conspiracy theorists and, last but not least, politicians and journalists.
From this brief scenario described, it seems that today’s society, as Sennett (2014) points out, increasingly presents “less social cohesion, less trust in political, legal and media institutions”. We are thus witnessing a ‘turtle effect’: the image of people who, when confronted with those who are different from them, either retreat into their shells or react violently.
The paradox of this condition is that while the digital infrastructure that allows us to share information and build networked social capital is becoming more powerful, the new communication environments are generating unprecedented levels of risk and forms of tribalism that combine solidarity for others like me with aggression against those who are different from me.
This ethnocentric attitude, particularly found in the contemporary communication space, undermines a fundamental concept of digital society: the possibility and capacity of online audiences to actively dialogue, participate and collaborate, using the state of interconnectedness offered by the Internet to achieve a common goal.
Dialogue and collaboration are fundamental to start enriching mutual contact between cultures; in this regard, Bauman (2015), referring to Sennett’s thought, believes that there are three ingredients for building an effective dialogue in the era of hyper-communication:
– Informality, i.e. establishing rules during communication without imposing them first; – Openness, accepting the possibility that our reasons may be refuted or incorrect; – Collaboration, a balanced exchange of information between institutions, media and citizens that does not involve abuse, losers or winners.
At a theoretical-conceptual level, this is a proposal that could be rethought from an ecological perspective of media and journalism, and from a critical analysis of the processes of information and representation of violent and discriminatory phenomena in the digital public sphere.
*Giacomo Buoncompagni, University of Florence – Member of the Hideandola Project Team (Hidden Anti-Semitism and the Communicative Skills of Criminal Lawyers and Journalists )
Balibar E. (2021), Racism, Antisemitism and Islamofobia, The Journal of the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities, 9.
Bauman Z. (1989), Modernità e Olocausto, il Mulino, Bologna
Bauman Z. (2015), Il secolo degli spettatori. Il dilemma globale della sofferenza umana, Edb, Bologna.
Buoncompagni G. (2023), The perception of anti-Semitic hatred in the Italian media and justice system, Fieldwork in Religion, 2, pp.1-16.
McLuhan M. (1968), War and Peace in the Global Village, Touchstone S&S, New York.
Santerini M. (2020), Mismanagment of Covid-19: lessons learned from Italy, Journal of Risk Research, 1-14.
Sennett R. (2014), Lo straniero: due saggi sull’esilio, Feltrinelli, Milano