Opinion |

What Are You Defending in These Talkbacks

Like brothers in arms, the online trolls assaulted 'radical feminism' - that is, a woman’s basic right to live in safety. The force of their animosity was frightening

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Women protest against sexual violence in Tel Aviv, December 2016.
Women protest against sexual violence in Tel Aviv, December 2016.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Avigail Lavie served as a voice for women whose bodies were abused and whose souls were scarred forever – the few who speak out and the survivors who keep silent, in an environment that sanctifies the existing order and silences those who could undermine it.

After her suicide I published an article in Haaretz (June 29). In the current reality, expressing an opinion makes you easy prey for internet trolls. The trigger for the violent outburst was the article’s noting that one of six girls is a victim of domestic sexual abuse.

The more elegant trolls attacked the statistic, because it’s still easier to deny documented information than the environment we live in. But the majority of trolls acted like their holy of holies had been stolen. Like brothers in arms (a considerable part of the comments was deleted), they blatantly assaulted “radical feminism” – that is, a woman’s basic right to live her life in safety.

It was evident that the comments were made by people who cannot bear the thought that women weren’t intended by their very existence to serve them. The shocking understanding that this wasn’t the case made them break walls and set every bush on fire in cyberspace.

Those who left the comments section continued the incitement on Facebook. These comments could clearly have assisted an alert police on the lookout for fathers who see their daughters as intended to fulfill their sexual needs.

The force of the animosity was frightening. Beyond making me wonder about this horrific conduct, I pitied the women near those men and wondered who and for what flag they were ranting and raving like that. Are these the men who verbally attack writers of articles about prostitution in Israel, feeling the sovereignty rug being pulled from under their feet? What is it that makes those primitive beings jump?

In a conversation about this violent atmosphere, a colleague told me he feels the online battles have actually lowered the flames, because all a troll wants is to let off steam. This is his protest, and his virtual letting off of steam stands in for acting on his feelings, leaving the real arena less violent. An original idea, but I’m not convinced it’s correct.

I have no clear answer about who is hiding (or who may not be hiding at all) behind the troll, nor is it clear to me what his motives are. But I do have solutions. These people must not be given a stage. If they want to sling mud – let them take to the streets. Let’s see them go all the way with their violence. This will enable the saving of at least some of the silent-terror victims in their vicinity.

What actually happens by leaving them in virtual space is described by Professor Elisabeth Noelle Neumann as the “spiral of silence” – people’s tendency to remain silent when they feel that their views are in opposition to the majority on a subject. The presence of opinions in the media creates a false consensus, around which circles of silence are formed. Even if some of them think otherwise, people are forced to choose between two options – join the majority opinion, even when it’s twisted and controlled by self-interested parties, or internalize the message that their personal opinion is not part of the consensus, and keep silent.

In view of this violence we must not keep silent. We must silence the disseminators of violence.