Israel at War

Elon Musk, will you stop the online attacks on Israel?

As Hamas supporters celebrate killing innocent Israelis, social media platforms have a responsibility to block hate speech
Hezbollah iran hamas - From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository
Hezbollah iran hamas - From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

With Israel Under Attack, Inaction is Complicity

Israel is at war! Overnight a barrage of rockets from Hamas targeted civilian positions across the nation, leaving dozens of casualties in their wake. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared this Saturday morning that the country was at war, noting that tens of thousands of reservists had been called into service. Yet, amid this chaos and bloodshed, another equally insidious battle is being waged: one that threatens to normalize hate and undermine the very fabric of civil discourse.

On social media, supporters of Hamas are openly celebrating the deaths of innocent Israelis, spreading hateful antisemitic tropes, and inciting violence. These actions not only contravene community standards but are an affront to basic human decency. They also pose a unique challenge for Silicon Valley tech leaders, who have the authority and responsibility to limit the spread of hate speech on their platforms. And among those tech leaders, few wield as much influence as Elon Musk.

Let’s be clear: this is not an issue of freedom of speech; this is an issue of promoting violence and hate. Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of democratic society, but it is not an unlimited right. Legal frameworks in the United States, such as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and in the European Union through Articles 17 and 22 of the e-Commerce Directive, empower social media platforms to act against hate speech. The United Kingdom’s Online Harms White Paper proposes a duty of care to protect users from online harms. The law, as it stands, not only permits but expects companies to take actions to limit harmful content.

Musk, known for his ability to shake up the tech world and send stocks soaring or tumbling with a single tweet, can surely navigate this problem. The question is not can he, but will he?

The consequences of inaction are not just limited to bad press or social backlash; they carry severe societal ramifications. By failing to act, Elon Musk—and indeed, all tech leaders—become complicit in the normalization of hate speech, thereby fueling the very flames of extremism they purport to condemn.

We find ourselves at an inflection point that can significantly shape the future of online discourse and societal values. Social media platforms—once celebrated as democratizing tools to amplify voices and foster open dialogue—risk becoming echo chambers for hate, radicalism, and violence. The stakes are high, particularly in volatile situations like the ongoing conflict in Israel. The choices made by social media platforms now will set the tone and tenor for online interactions for years to come.

In this watershed moment, complacency is not just negligence; it is complicity. Elon Musk, with his significant sway over the technology ecosystem, faces a choice that is emblematic of the broader dilemma confronting society. Will he allow his platforms to be exploited by those propagating hate, or will he intervene to restore these platforms as spaces for constructive, respectful dialogue?

The ethical obligation here is not mere corporate social responsibility but a fundamental requirement for the stability and integrity of our interconnected world. For companies that have shaped and are shaping the digital age, social responsibility should be as fundamental as innovation. Elon Musk, known for groundbreaking advances in transportation and space exploration, must now prove that he is equally committed to pioneering ethical governance in the digital sphere.

The crisis in Israel serves as a grim testament to the real-world impact of online hate. The incendiary posts we see today contribute to a climate that normalizes hate speech, fosters division, and, at its worst, incites violence. With every moment of inaction, these platforms become unwitting accomplices to the escalating conflict, sowing discord that transcends digital boundaries to manifest in physical, often fatal, confrontations.

We stand on the precipice of a societal shift, where the decisions we make today will resonate for generations to come. Given the urgency of the situation in Israel and the concomitant increase in online hate speech, there’s no latitude for complacency or bureaucratic delay. Waiting for another tragedy as a catalyst for change is not just reactive but reprehensible.

In an increasingly polarized world, the role of social media platforms as arbiters of public discourse is more critical than ever. As someone who has revolutionized multiple industries, Musk is no stranger to monumental challenges. But the question remains: Will he rise to meet this one?

This is not just a defining moment for Elon Musk or any other tech leader; it is a defining moment for society at large. Neutrality, once a treasured principle in platform governance, can no longer serve as an excuse for inaction. The price of such inaction is too high, measured not in stock points or market valuation, but in human lives and the cohesion of our social fabric.

The call to action is clear. We cannot afford a failure of leadership when the stakes are this high. This is a moment for decisive, moral action. For Elon Musk, and indeed for all of us, the time to act is now.

About the Author
Catherine Perez-Shakdam - Director Forward Strategy and Executive Director Forum of Foreign Relations (FFR) Catherine is a former Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society and consultant for the UNSC on Yemen, as well an expert on Iran, Terror and Islamic radicalisation. A prominent political analyst and commentator, she has spoken at length on the Islamic Republic of Iran, calling on the UK to proscribe the IRGC as a terrorist organisation. Raised in a secular Jewish family in France, Catherine found herself at the very heart of the Islamic world following her marriage to a Muslim from Yemen. Her experience in the Middle East and subsequent work as a political analyst gave her a very particular, if not a rare viewpoint - especially in how one can lose one' sense of identity when confronted with systemic antisemitism. Determined to share her experience and perspective on those issues which unfortunately plague us -- Islamic radicalism, Terror and Antisemitism Catherine also will speak of a world, which often sits out of our reach for a lack of access.
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