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The first cut is the deepest

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HOWARD FELDMAN

And so, as anyone would do in 2020, I shared my disappointment on Twitter. “Today is my great-nephew’s bris. It will take place down the road, but we can’t be there. In the past, I would have flown around the world to celebrate, but now we will Zoom it from a few blocks away. Today, I really hate this #COVID-19 reality.” I wrote this partly to indicate that we are all in this together, partly to encourage people to adhere to social distancing regulations, and partly because I wanted to share how I was feeling.

At first, I received the responses that I thought I would. People shared their own experiences, wished me mazaltov, and others told me to look on the bright side. And then, just when I least expected it, I received the following message. “In a normal world, cops would be called. They would come and protect the baby from this ritual of penile sacrifice, handcuff the mohel and the parents, and put them in jail for mutilation and rape.”

I was shocked. And in my shock, I responded, “Penile sacrifice? [laughing face, laughing face] Rape? Gosh, all I was upset about was missing the smoked salmon bagels. You lot have it much worse!” It turns out that anti “circumcisers” don’t have much in the way of a sense of humour, because they accused me of having the “laugh of impunity”. It also turned out to be the tip of that iceberg (so to speak), because for two days, I was hit by a barrage of messages from accounts with names like “Stop cutting boys” and others who believe that everyone has the right to the “genitalia that they were born with”.

On Monday, I invited listeners to suggest songs that would be fitting to play in honour of this occasion. They were true to form, and suggested titles like, The First Cut is the Deepest and Cuts Like a Knife. Good times.

By Tuesday, I had grown bored with the level of drama, and had moved on. I couldn’t imagine focusing on this for more time than I already had, and I guess that this mob had found someone else to harass.

For me, the incident was nothing more than a few hours of good, clean fun. But it could also have been unnerving (if I were sensitive), and if I took the vitriol seriously. Perhaps, if the subject was different, I could have been personally triggered by it, and it might have had an impact on me.

Which is what’s happening on social media. Earlier this week, Adriaan Basson, the editor of News24, announced that he would no longer be active on Twitter. “It’s time to move on from social media platform Twitter which has become dominated by hateful, ignorant, and divisive content,” he said. Basson, in his role in media, has other outlets for debate and engagement, but for most, Twitter and other social-media platforms are important places to engage.

A grave danger to freedom of expression and debate is the aggressive mob approach to social media. There are no simple solutions, but the problem is clear. If we don’t find a better way to engage, it will be more than smoked salmon that we’ll lose.

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