AMES, Iowa — It used to be a simpler more civil time. “Iowa used to be the pillar of community standards when we had face to face interaction with our neighbors.”
As society has become enthralled in social media, Michael Bugeja, professor at the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University says civility and hate are getting worse. “As we gravitate more online we have to understand it gives us the convenience of sharing our views with little consequence,” he said.
Robert Bowers, the alleged shooter in the deadly Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, relayed his hate speech against Jews on a social media networking site called Gab just moments before the attack. Bugeja said, “Sometimes many people get overlooked and where they get accepted is on those fringes.” Bugeja who has authored Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine believes Bowers and others who support his views are a population on the fringe of society that have found acceptance through these beliefs on public forums like social media. “Many on the fringe suffer from severe anger. When they hear uncivil speech and media or what sounds like incitement to do an act, those people on the fringe will believe their time has come. That they’ve been right all along,” he said.
Those fringe views have ramped up in Iowa. The Anti-Defamation League fights antisemitism and according to a recent audit Iowa saw nine antisemitic incidents in 2017 that ranged from harassment to vandalism. That is an increase from zero in 2016 and just one incident in 2015. “How have we worked with our community to better our community and live up to the Iowa values that are so strong here? If we forget what those are and we start pointing at the fringes we are going to exacerbate this problem,” he said.
Gab has since been shutdown and removed from app stores. The ADL says 2017 was the first year in almost a decade where every state in the country reported at least one act of antisemitism.