Ripple effect ends in tragedy
An Israeli civil servant committed suicide on Saturday after a Facebook post accusing him of racism went viral.
Ariel Ronis, 47, managed the Population, Immigration and Border Crossing Authority (PIBA) offices in Tel Aviv. Last week, a black Israeli woman posted a note on Facebook about her experiences in the office, accusing various staff—including Ronis—of treating her unfairly because of the color of her skin. She says that she was denied services by a clerk, and then told by Ronis to “get out of his face” when she complained about it. She claims the incident made her cry, and caused her a considerable amount of distress.
Her post caught the attention of the online community and the media, and went viral. Ronis was officially smeared, and judging by a note he posted to his own Facebook page, the incident pushed him over the edge.
The Times of Israel translated his post:
“Two days ago a woman came to the office to get service,” he recounted. “At the time I was assisting other people. She demanded the service immediately and instantly began shouting that not receiving it was racism.”
He had always espoused treating all people equally, regardless of religion or origin, he explained, even publishing a book on the subject and forming an organization dedicated to “equality between all citizens, especially minorities, and their integration into a homogenous Israeli society.
“And here this woman was accusing me of racism. I told her to stop right there. I would not have her take that route. Not in my office. There is a queue for mothers with small children and she must stand in that queue like all the other mothers. Not everything you want but don’t get is racism,” he said.
“From that moment on began a process that should be studied in every communications school,” Ronis wrote. “It was not long before I got a phone call from the public complaints division. After a few hours a (Facebook) post appeared as well as an article on (Israeli Facebook group) Mamazone, an interview (on Channel 10) and a whole media cricus. Not two days later the post had over 6,000 shares, each of them a sharpened arrow in my flesh. Me? A racist?” he wrote.
“All of my work over the course of my entire life was swept away instantly, ended momentarily by someone asked to stand in line like everyone else,” he said. “The sharers continued… to fire their arrows at me, not stopping for a moment to question (themselves).
“I hardly blame them. I too would have been appalled at such a post and perhaps would have clicked my tongue and shared (it) self-righteously, without considering the consequences,” he added.
Ronis said he could not stand the fact that his good name had been sullied, and was now “synonymous with the most terrible designation imaginable in my case — racism.”
He concluded that he was “not angry” at his accuser but said that while she may have gotten over her perceived ordeal, “I am not able to. Goodbye!”
After the news of Ronis’ suicide broke, the woman responsible for the original Facebook post (who remains unnamed as of now) said she was “heartbroken,” and that she would “do anything to take [her] action back.”
Unfortunately, the damage has been done.
I’m not going to sit here and claim that this woman’s post was the reason that Ronis took his own life, or that she is 100% at fault for his distress. That being said, this event is just one more example of how social media can be used to ruin lives in the name of perceived injustice.
We may never know exactly what happened in the PIBA offices—and that’s the problem in general with glomming on to rants posted to social media. We as a society have become content to ruin lives; we see injustice, and instead of asking questions and looking for answers, we find false solutions in the catharsis that comes from lashing out a complete strangers.
Justine Sacco lost her job and livelihood after a Buzzfeed reporter deemed a tweet of her’s “the worst tweet of all time.” Former Hill comms staffer Elizabeth Lauten quite literally had to go into hiding after her criticisms of the First Daughters’ attire went viral. The online community ate it up because, hey, it’s not me on the receiving end!
What is wrong with us?
This is a tragedy, and I’m sure we’ll see more think pieces written about the damaging effects of social media shaming—not that that will stop the mob from brandishing their pitchforks the next time some shame peddler shows up with a tale of woe.
Ronis’ full post is embedded below:
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