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February 1, 2015 / 12 Shevat, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘internet’

Czech Jews Document Tripling of Online Anti-Semitism

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

The Jewish Community of Prague documented a tripling of online instances of anti-Semitic hate speech last year.

The increase, which the community links to a Jewish politician’s presidential bid, among other factors, was documented in an annual report on anti-Semitism published Tuesday.

The community documented 82 instances of online hate speech on Czech websites in the last year, compared to only 26 the previous year.

According to idnes.cz, a news site, the report attributes the increase to the presidential campaign ahead of elections last January. Jan Fischer, a Jewish politician, was considered a leading candidate but did not make it past the first round.

“The presidential elections have revealed a degree of latent anti-Semitism in some groups, but certainly did not indicate anti-Semitism in the majority or mainstream political speech,” the authors of the report wrote.

Other causes listed were a strategic shift in extreme-right circles to online activity; escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and warm relations between the Czech government and Israel, idnes.cz reported.

The authors recorded no physical assault or threats due to anti-Semitism in 2012 but registered six attacks on property and ten instances of harassment, mainly via email. The report further states that the overall prevalence of anti-Semitism is lower in the Czech Republic than in other European countries.

How a Jewish Online Magazine Was Launched

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

This week, Doug speaks to Alana Newhouse, who has extensive experience in the world of American Jewish journalism, having worked as culture editor at the Forward before moving over in 2008 to Nextbook, which was eventually relaunched as Tablet Magazine. Alana tells Doug about how the Internet has become a valuable tool for spreading Jewish news. Tune into this interesting Podcast to hear more, along with all of your favorite financial columns and advice.

Hacker in Huge Web Attack Makes Anti-Jewish Statements

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

A man claiming to represent the hackers behind one of the biggest attacks in Internet history made anti-Jewish statements on Facebook.

Sven Olaf Kamphuis, who claims to be a spokesman for the group that has slowed down Web access in retaliation for Internet providers that refuse to prevent their clients from spamming, made anti-Semitic statements on the social media network, the Daily Beast reported.

“There are a certain group of Jews known as the Zionists that think they are better than other people and this is not a problem with all Jews, this is just a problem with certain Jews who think the others are like the goyim,” Kamphuis said in an interview. “I think Steve Linford is like that.”

Linford is the founder of Spamhaus, a Geneva-based anti-spam company. According to Kamphuis, Spamhaus placed an Internet Service Provider that he owns on a blacklist, effectively denying it access to the Internet.

In retaliation, Kamphuis says he and others formed an opposition group, Stophaus, which earlier this month launched a massive attack that flooded servers with data, impeding Internet service for users around the world. It is said to have been the largest such attack in history.

Kamphuis has a history of making claims against Israelis. In 2010, after a German court issued an injunction against his company for piracy, he claimed the Mossad spy agency tried to blow up his car.

Anonymity Makes Blogging Better

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Editor’s Note: This blog is a response to a blog posting on the JewishPress.com by Harry Maryles (Emes Ve-Emunah) who argued that anonymity on the internet leads to nastiness and singled out “DovBear” an anonymous blogger who comments on Maryles’s blogs.

Harry Maryles says he disagrees with my posts over the last few days, in which I argue in favor of as much online anonymity as possible. In what follows I explain why he is wrong:

Note: I don’t mean any disrespect in referring to Harry Maryles by his first name. We’ve known each other for a very long time, and I consider him a colleague who often takes the same side as I do on important issues. Also, I am not a very formal guy. Don’t make a big deal out of it. The words in bold belong to Harry and are followed by my response.

Dovbear – who himself chooses to be anonymous – is a good example of why he shouldn’t be. His writing is sometimes very nasty.”

This is an exaggeration. I happen to think Avi Shafran and Yaakov Menken are far more nasty than I am, and they use their real names! If you doubt this, see any of their posts on heterodox rabbis. They are always full of lies and snide remarks.

“A luxury he affords himself because of that anonymity.”

Untrue. And even if it was true, how would Harry know? I’m anonymous, remember? So what possible basis does he have for claiming that the way I behave on my blog is substantively different from the way I behave in public? He has no idea, and because he has no idea, he should say nothing. Making a groundless guess about someone is a breach of good manners, and let’s not ignore that he committed this small act of nastiness even though he is using his real name. So much for the theory that real names enhance civility.

“While I may agree or disagree with him, I find it very distasteful when he writes that way – and that occasionally it crosses the line of respecting human dignity.”

That’s fine. You’re entitled to make that statement, and if you were to make it on my comment thread I wouldn’t delete it. However, you have no good reason to think its produced by my anonymity. For all you know, what you see on the blog is the real me. And besides: plenty of our blogging colleagues use their real names, and they are nasty, too. So much for the theory that real names enhance civility.

“I would be willing to bet that this is why he guards his identity so religiously. He does not want people to think of him the way they do about ‘Dovbear.’”

You would lose that bet.

I am anonymous because I don’t want my wife and kids to have to put up with any of the unfriendly, unfair, vicious people who have crossed my blogging path. The world is full of jerks, and I am entitled to privacy. If it costs me credibility, so be it. That’s my choice, and I am entitled to make it.

“In a very self-serving way”

Questioning my motives is also a breach of good manners. I find it distasteful. (for real) And yet – let’s note again – the fact that we all know your name hasn’t stopped you from behaving towards me in an uncivil way. (I don’t mean the criticism. I mean the baseless guesses about my motives. Its not good etiquette).

“[H]e thus tries to actually make an argument for anonymity as a better way of communicating ideas. Anonymity – he says – forces respondents to consider the argument rather than focus on the identity.”

This is true. It is a better way to discuss ideas, for the reasons I gave.Moreover, it makes the blogging better. The comment threads are more lively and more fun, and we are able to discuss anything we like in any manner we like without having to endure tzitzis checks at shul and school.The people who oppose anonymity, generally, are the people who would like to be conducting those tzitzis checks.

“That would be true if it were not accompanied by the insults that frequently come with anonymous comments.”

Most of my comment writers are anonymous, and insults are very rare – and certainly not frequent.

In fact, after nearly nine years of reading thousands of my own comment threads and probably close to one million comments, most of which were left by anonymous people, I can safely say that Harry’s premise is false: Insults DO NOT frequently come with anonymous comments. (Readers: Do you agree with me?)

And again, even if Harry was right, it would still be true that anonymity forces respondents to consider the argument rather than focus on the identity. Harry hasn’t offered any counterargument. He merely introduced a (false) fact that did nothing to defeat my claim.

“He makes note of the fact that Rabbi Menken actually misused the knowledge he thought he had gained googling a commenter who used his real name. Rather than focusing on the content of his message he focused on the individual and used it to discredit him rather than respond to comment. But googling that name produced information about someone else with that name.”

Correct. This actually happened. And now that it has happened, why would anyone see any profit in using his real name on Cross Currents if he was after an honest exchange of ideas? Harry doesn’t answer this question either. Also, one of Menken’s colleagues on Cross Currents has been known to call commenters and bloggers on the phone and yell at them when they say things he doesn’t like. Real bullying stuff. Who in their right mind would want to be exposed to such madness? Who would want their kids and spouses to have to deal with it? It’s so much saner, so much simpler and so much safer to just use a pseudonym.

“Dovbear is right about that. Rabbi Menken was wrong. But that does not diminish his point about lowering the level of discourse when the comments are made anonymously.”

Perhaps it doesn’t diminish your point, but (sorry to keep pointing this out) you still haven’t gone to the trouble of proving your point. Do you have any data, or even an anecdote, that suggests anonymity lowers the level of discourse? Sure, Avi Shafran (who has his own self serving reason to oppose online anonymity) constantly says its true, but he’s never bothered to prove it either. Anyway, I have seen more comment threads and comments than the both of you combined, and I say it isn’t so. The level of discourse isn’t lowered when people are anonymous. Its enhanced. People are free to say what they like, and because no one is using a real name, no one can get hurt.

And can I make another point that Harry hasn’t grasped? You never know if someone is using his real name on a comment thread. Just because I might write a comment using the name Yaakov Shwartz is no proof that I really am Yaakov Shwartz and besides, with so many people named Yaakov Shwartz in the world, why should using my real name make me worry about how I come across on a blog thread? If someone complains to me about it in person, I can always say the comment was left by a different Yaakov Shwartz. So what have we gained?

“I believe Dovbear is wrong in the argument he makes favoring anonymity. He says that anonymity forces you to respond to content instead of focusing on the individual. That is a specious argument. “

Ok, you think its “specious”. Are you going to tell us why?

“If you have something to say it doesn’t make any difference if you know the identity of the commenter or not. If you want to attack a commenter with vile insults instead of responding to their content – you can do that without knowing their identity too.”

I guess not. Sigh. So to sum up the reasons why Harry is wrong about anonymity:

(1) Using your real name doesn’t guarantee civility. Plenty of online jerks use their real names. It has not made them more civil.

(2) Gaining credibility through the use of your name is a lazy short cut. Better to win it through the strength of your arguments.

(3) There’s no such thing as a “real name” on a comment board. You can never know if the person using the name Yaakov Shwartz on a comment board uses that names in real life, as well.

The people who wish to end online anonymity are also the people who think Kolko got a raw deal and would like to stone kofrim in Times Square. They’re the people who Google your name so they can cover it with mud or so they can call you up on the phone and harangue you into silence They hate anonymity but not because they value civility but because they value orthodoxy and anonymous blogging threatens it. Rather then muster solid counter arguments, these people want to know the names of the unorthodox bloggers so that they can be made to suffer for their ideas. This is what’s at stake – this is the real thinking behind the anti-anonymity push.

Visit DovBear.

To Be (Anonymous) or Not to Be

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Last Tuesday, CrossCurrents featured an article by Rabbi Yaakov Menken challenging anonymity on the internet.

I find myself mostly in agreement with it. Although I allow people to post anonymously (albeit with at least an alias) I would prefer that people stand by their words and not be afraid of them.
But as Rabbi Menken pointed out there are sometimes repercussions to using your own identity that can harm you professionally, which has nothing to do with standing by your view.
There are some Charedi people who comment anonymously on my blog who are prominent personalities. And their views are almost always among the more intelligent ones. But often they go against conventional wisdom of that community. Had they identified themselves, it could hurt them professionally in their own community. I am not talking about members of the Agudah Moetzes or the like. But they are nevertheless well known Charedim who could be hurt if their identities were to be made known.
I understand that and respect it. But that is different from a rabbinic leader whose very identity is defined by membership to a group that has “Gedolim” in its title. There – anonymity has no place.
The fact is that Rabbi Menken never did defend the anonymous rabbinic personality spoken about by Rabbi Adlerstein in the original post that eventually generated this one. In fact his own silence on the matter actually seems to endorse my own view of the matter. Professional harm was not likely the case with this individual.
When it comes to commenting on a blog being anonymous in your comments is a double edged sword. On the one hand it allows you to say what you really think without suffering any personal consequences.  If truth is the main concern one might think that anonymity is the best way to get it. You can speak your mind without fear. This is the way to know what people really think. There is no holding back or mincing words.
The problem is that there are unintended consequences to that type of candor. Anonymity allows mean-spiritedness and coarseness of language without the slightest care about how that affects the people you are challenging.  It was almost as if there were elements of hatred about the person you are attacking.
Making vile comments instead of arguing on merit may be cathartic. But it is also harmful. Abusive language is harmful not only to the victim of the attack but to the attacker.
Freeing up rage is not a good thing. It also shows a flaw in your character. A flaw that needs to change. Sadly it reveales that there are so many people who are vile and disgusting by nature but hide it in their daily lives. (That they keep it under wraps and hidden is good. But that their nature to be vile and disgusting is not good.)
But isn’t a civilized society all about taming the savage beast in all of us? Civilization (not to mention a Torah Hashkafa) should teach us to hold back these negative impulses and treat every human being with dignity, even when we strongly disagree. That is the kind of person that is respected among peers. When people want to continue to get that kind of respect they do not speak in vile and insulting language. They speak in respectful tones.
But the inner beast in some of us wants to let it all hang out. Anonymity on the internet provides an opportunity.
The desire to insult people you disagree with is an ugly character trait. Those who are predisposed to it would do well to learn to control those impulses and never let them see the light of day.  The best way to do that online is to use your real name when you comment. In that way civil discourse will be furthered. And your own character will continue to be refined.
If one must remain anonymous even for legitimate reasons, they should write their comments as though they were using their real names.
Dovbear - who himself chooses to be anonymous – is a good example of why he shouldn’t be. His writing is sometimes very nasty. A luxury he affords himself because of that anonymity.  While I may agree or disagree with him, I find it very distasteful when he writes that way – and that occasionally it crosses the line of respecting human dignity. I would be willing to bet that this is why he guards his identity so religiously. He does not want people to think of him the way they do about “Dovbear.”
In a very self-serving way he thus tries to actually make an argument for anonymity as a better way of communicating ideas. Anonymity – he says – forces respondents to consider the argument rather than focus on the identity. That would be true if it were not accompanied by the insults that frequently come with anonymous comments.
He makes note of the fact that Rabbi Menken actually misused the knowledge he thought he had gained googling a commenter who used his real name. Rather than focusing on the content of his message he focused on the individual  and used it to discredit him rather than respond to comment. But googling that name produced information about someone else with that name.
Dovbear is right about that. Rabbi Menken was wrong. But that does not diminish his point  about lowering the level of discourse when the comments are made anonymously.
Bottom line for me is that if one wants to argue with me or some of the other commenters, please do it as respectfully as you can. It will generate a far better discourse, make for a lot less hurt feelings, and make you a better person. And it will make my life a lot easier.
Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

The Price of Enforced Uniformity

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

I found Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein’s somewhat lengthy response to Dr. Yoel Finkelman to be eye opening. It validates my own perception of what it’s like to live in the Charedi world. He does it honestly and openly. The following is what I consider a key part of his response:

The greater harm is not in enforced silence, but in enforced uniformity. The latter has some benefits that should not be dismissed. Too many of us are in the thrall of a belief that individual autonomy is the summa bonum of society. This is simply not part of the vision of Chazal, who did provide for censorship, for enforcement of not only Torah law but communal takanos, and instructed us to find spouses, rabbeim and friends who would be there always to reprimand us when wrong, and apply healthy community pressure to do better than we would otherwise do. Community membership has its benefits.

Nonetheless, the pressure will work for some, and be disastrous for others, especially, as you point out, those with more creativity and individuality. There is a superabundance of one-size-fits-all thinking in our world, and it is terribly harmful.

Indeed there is. It is unfortunately true that there is an enforced uniformity of the masses of Charedim. And that prevents an open expression of honest opinion by their public. Rabbi Adlerstein calls it the price of membership. I call it a mentally unhealthy way to live. Even though he says it needn’t be – the problem is that it all too often is. I think that is changing. More on that later.

Although the concept of Daas Torah is taught a bit differently among various Charedi Yeshivos – as Rabbi Adlerstein points out – the “One size fits all” thinking is the Daas Torah for far too many Charedim. And their Gedolim are by definition the ones most qualified tell us what it is on any and every subject. In this interpretation – to defy Daas Torah is to defy the Torah itself. One must adhere to it or they cannot claim to be a member in good standing of authentic Judaism. To the extent that other streams of Orthodoxy do not see it their way is to the extent that they are outside the pale.

Why do they pay that price?

They feel this way because they are Chareid L’Dvar HaShem. They tremble before the word of God. The truly sincere Charedi genuinely wants to serve God in the best possible way he can in every aspect of his life. He dare not make important decisions in his life based on his own limited Torah knowledge when those greater than himself can make better decisions. To the extent that any Charedi does not seek Daas Torah is to the extent he rebels at the word of God, instead of trembling before it. The deference due our elders adds to their aura.

And yet often their instincts tell them otherwise. And often they will follow those instincts.

A great example of that is the internet. Charedi Gedolim tell them that the internet is so evil that it should be avoided at all cost. Many safeguards are built into their world to eliminate it from their lives. They include bans; expulsion of their children from their schools if they have it in their homes; threats of losing your Chelek in Olam Haba… all in the the pursuit of ridding their world of it. It is a forbidden fruit except when necessary for for livelihood purposes. The common man can have no say in the matter because their own Torah knowledge does not match that of the Gedolim.

So even when these views are honored in the breach by a great many Charedim, they still retain the status of Daas Torah. The fact that so many use the internet in non-approved ways is either rationalized – or considered a weakness. The word of God has been expressed. There is no other way to look at it. Daas Torah has spoken.

But this is the kind of thing that has lead to the quiet skepticism that is settling in their world about the value of their Daas Torah. Too much of it is at odds with their natural instinct and their own experiences. Instinct and experiences that have been influenced not only by what they have learned in the classroom, but influenced by what they have learned outside of it.

When there are so many people who go against the strong admonitions of Daas Torah on something like the internet – there arises a critical mass who realize that the dire consequences of ignoring the warnings – will never happen. Instead they see that it actually enhances their lives. How long they will feel forced to promote the party line publicly while privately ignoring it remains to be seen.The image of Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel apologetically using his smartphone during his address at last year’s convention right after smartphones were condemned by a previous speaker – illustrates this point.

By now a critical mass of Charedim has learned and internalized that the evils –which are real – are not the only thing the internet has to offer.

In the meantime Daas Torah has taken on a life of its own that supersedes even the Charedi Gedolim who are charged with expressing it.

When a Torah personality feels that his own Daas Torah might go against conventional Charedi wisdom he will not express it. Instead he will ask a surrogate to make his views known.

In the end all of this weakens Daas Torah. It can only erode the devotion that Charedim have to their current leaders. It may very well be that the Charedi world will eventually refuse to pay the price of membership. What about their desire to serve God in the best possible way? Who is going to tell them how to do it?

In matters of Halacha I think they will still look to their leadership. But in many other matters I think they will also begin to think for themselves. Especially if it involves one’s children. As Rabbi Adlerstein himself concedes:

I have no easy solution other than to remind parents in particular that their responsibility is to their child, while the responsibility of the principal or manhig at times is to the majority of the public. When the two do not coincide, the parent must do what is best for his or her child, not for the tzibbur.

They will look to them occasionally for meta-Halachic advice too. But only when they ask – much the same way we in the Centrist camp do. When they don’t ask and advice is offered on public policy, they will treat it with respect and factor it in to their decisions. But no longer will it be seen as a “One size fits all” mentality. Again, much the same way we Centrists do. Charedi uniformity will not be as sociologically enforceable as it is now. That is where the quiet undertone of dissent will eventually lead. In fact this is where the moderate Charedi – like Rabbi Adlerstein – already lives. And that’s a good thing.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

The State of the Internet Revolution in International Affairs: Less Progress Than You’d Think

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

In January 2000 I wrote an article entitled “Bringing Middle East (and International Affairs) Studies into the Twenty-First Century.” Rereading that piece exactly a dozen years later to the day is an eye-opener. Some of the things I predicted then have become so commonplace that it is hard to believe such ideas were so daring to present back then. Others haven’t happened much at all.

Here I’m talking about how international affairs writing has been changed. I began by pointing out that our project to produce a high-level online journal on the region, the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, then four years old, was an innovation that some had mocked and predicted would fail. But now that journal is entering its 17th year, having published around almost 500 full-length articles each reaching an audience of around 30,000 people! By way of comparison, most printed academic journals in the field have a circulation of around 1000.

At that time, I also had to explain our new turn to PDF/Adobe and how that was more convenient in several ways. That, too, is now taken for granted and new more advanced systems have been developed. I continued:

It is also necessary for funding agencies to rethink how their monies can be most effectively used. Amounts that have been paid for individual books–or even papers–and conferences could have 100 times more impact if applied to some of the new [computer-based] approaches discussed below.

Strange as it might seem, this still hasn’t completely happened. The money spent on a single conference or on a print journal could probably fund a journal or other online project for one or two years.

Following that I suggested a program for the future.

Equality for internet publications with printed media. Internet publications that meet the existing criteria should have equality in being indexed and being used for academic rank and tenure decisions. There is no intrinsic reason why a publication should not be treated differently simply because it is not produced originally on paper.

What might be called digitalphobia, however, has only gradually waned. In theory, this goal has been achieved but it is hard to get that point implemented.

Internet book publishing. Today it can take up to one year just to work through the reviewing process and gain acceptance for a book, as well as another year to be published. The resulting books usually sell for $30 to $50, putting them out of range for almost everyone except libraries (whose resources must be reaching their limit). It isn’t as if anyone is becoming rich in this process, on the contrary, academic presses are often losing money. We must work out acceptable ways to publish via the internet, both on a for-sale and free basis, so that authors will receive the proper credit and academic benefits. We should also be very aware of the possibility of creating `living books,’ monographs, and papers, which can be updated as events, new sources, and the author’s own interpretations develop. Such materials can also benefit from criticism so as easily to correct errors or alternative interpretations.

Twelve years later we are still only at the beginning of this transition. Publishers have benefited from the Kindle and other such products enough to save themselves. As for ebooks, the terms offered to authors are quite unattractive. And publishers do nothing much to publicize ebooks. Of course, they don’t do much to publicize print books either. It’s strange to have written books on Egypt, Syria, and Arab reformers—to cite only three examples—at a time when these issues are front-page news every day and see the publishers do absolutely zero to promote them.

The use of teleconferencing and computer telephones for research, meetings, and discussions. We now have access to low-cost, easy-to-use teleconferencing and voice-conferencing systems that allow us to erase geography in our daily work. These will come into increasing use in the coming years, especially as high-speed internet connections (such as ISDN, DSL, and cable modems) become more widespread.

It is amazing the extent to which this has not happened. Oh yes, there are such things but they have been strongly resisted and are still rare. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on plane tickets and hotels instead. The argument is face-to-face meetings are so much better. Certainly, that is true on one level but the ratio of “in-person” events to those using digital communications is still absurdly high.

New styles of research and academic projects….An international team can be assembled to study a topic in which all exchange materials or smaller groups of partners work on a paper together. When impossible to meet face-to-face, they can meet now by teleconferencing after the papers are completed for a discussion on a higher level than would otherwise occur. The monies saved could be used to pay the researchers. The resulting book or individual papers can be published traditionally or on the internet.

While I know you can think of examples of such things they are still amazingly rare.

Big online archives and research tools where people know how to find them. We need a system of documentary collections and other materials that can be readily used by researchers.

This has happened to the extent that many college students only use online sources, more’s the pity. Often, though, these troves are mishandled (in terms of judging the quality of sources) and underutilized when it comes to primary source material. Ironically, it is just as easy to go to the original source yet people use the tool of Internet to restrict themselves lazily to secondary sources, for example, the opinions of journalists or bloggers rather than what people actually said or did.

Specialized seminar groups on every topic. Those interested in any subject, no matter how specialized, can organize mediated, membership discussion groups involving experts from anywhere in the world.

This has happened to some extent, both in terms of institutional and individual lists. Yet one wonders whether this is as systematic as it could be.

The use of internet broadcast lectures and conferences. Using current technology like Realplayer and Windows Media Player, sites can make available on demand either radio (sound only) or television (sound and picture) coverage of lectures and meetings so they would be permanently available to people everywhere in the world. The cost of such technologies is quite affordable. The greatest advantage of this technology, however, is that a lecture or conference attended by one hundred people on one day can now easily be seen by thousands of people–at their convenience–over a long period of time. Of course, as with other media, people must get used to using them.

Such things have developed dramatically.

Embedded footnotes. Increasingly, in publishing papers and books on internet, we can use notes linked to the sources being quoted, allowing instant access to sources. This creates an infinite chain of information that provides far more breadth and depth than anything written on paper. Obviously, any quotation out of context will be clearly seen, while translations can be checked as well.

This, of course, has happened so thoroughly it is hard to remember what earlier life was like.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/analysis/rubin-reports/the-state-of-the-internet-revolution-in-international-affairs-less-progress-than-youd-think/2013/01/03/

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