Today marks the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht, when Nazis ransacked 7,000 Jewish stores and houses across Germany, killing nearly 100 people. It is in that context that I address the epidemic of hate that is engulfing the U.S.
I interviewed Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, yesterday at the PRovoke Global Summit in Washington, D.C. I began the discussion with a sickening set of statistics. 2022 saw the highest number of recorded hate crimes (11,600+) since the FBI began tracking in 1991, with crimes against Black people accounting for over half of the incidents. The ADL has recorded 312 Antisemitic incidents between Oct. 7 and 23, compared to 64 incidents in the same period last year. During the same period of Oct. 7-24, there were 774 Islamophobic incidents. Anti-Latino hate crimes surged 41 percent from 2020-2021. In the wake of the pandemic, anti-Asian crimes surged nearly 150 percent between 2019-20. Lastly, anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes surged 20 percent last year.
Greenblatt and I discussed four reasons for the rising tide of overall intolerance and hate. First is the mass-class divide, the sense of disenfranchisement, the downward economic trajectory, the impact of inflation and higher interest rates on standard of living. Second is the coarseness of public conversation, which began in 2016. Third is the move to extremes of the political landscape. Fourth is the social media tsunami; “social media is a super-spreader of hate, with algorithms designed to get your dopamine levels surging,” Greenblatt said yesterday at the conference.
He was quite passionate about the role of the CEO in speaking out against all forms of hatred. “If you are a CEO who took a position on Black Lives Matter and anti-Asian hate, you have to speak out about Antisemitism,” said Greenblatt. I would add that you also have to speak about anti-Muslim sentiment and denounce Islamophobic hate, particularly in light of some of the numbers I included earlier. Our flash Trust Barometer poll at the end of October in six countries found that three-quarter of respondents want CEOs to reprimand employees who engage in behavior or speech inside or outside of the workplace that inflames tensions.
We spoke about the importance of Chief Communications Officers and of company newsletters at the present moment. I told the audience that company newsletters are the most trusted source of information for employees (a development that started during the Pandemic). I added that ‘My Employer’ is the most trusted institution, far ahead of Government (62 points) on competence and ethics, so that the burden falls primarily on the private sector to try and solve important societal challenges.
Misinformation is one of the top challenges we’re facing as a society today. Greenblatt noted, “I learned from communicators years ago that you should just ignore it. But that doesn’t work. You are better off countering the slander and pushing back against the lies." He added, "Communicators have to play three-dimensional chess, listening and monitoring, offering strategy and action steps, then having a proactive ability to respond to disinformation.” I advocated pre-bunking, disarming the opponent by preemptive release of information that undercuts the argument.
A fundamental part of Greenblatt’s argument is the limits of free speech. “I believe in free speech but not freedom to incite violence or imperil others. That’s not just my view, it is the view of the Supreme Court (remember Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ famous line; "you don’t yell FIRE in a crowded theater”). In short, you cannot abridge somebody else’s rights in the exercise of your own. He asked that universities use their codes of conduct to make their campuses safe places for all students, to sanction violators. “Leaders must lead to protect the minority.”
Earlier this week, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear was reelected to a second term, and in his victory speech he said, “Anger politics should end. You must show leadership in a different way. Put love over hate. Try to lead with compassion. Realize this is not a game. These are people’s lives.” It’s the right message at the right time. This is everyone’s battle, for a decent society in which all have an opportunity to thrive.
Richard Edelman is CEO.