“No Platform for Hate” – A Tech Panel

Image: Nellie Bowles of the New York Times interviews a panel including Melissa Tidwell of Reddit, Juniper Downs of YouTube, and Monika Bikert of Facebook. (Photo by Rabbi Ruth Adar, taken in San Francisco on 11/13/17) 

I know if I wait to rewrite this, I’m not going to get around to posting it. Therefore what you are getting are my slightly-edited notes from the ADL Conference “Never is Now” which I attended in San Francisco yesterday. This is the first of three posts.

Jonathan Greenblatt gave the keynote.

Nellie Bowles from the New York Times interviewed a panel of representatives from Facebook, Reddit, and YouTube. Fascinating stuff, beginning with the fact that gradually dawned on me: all of them are attorneys, judging from their bios.  All chose their words carefully, and talked about what the companies have done to rein in hate speech on their platforms.

Unfortunately, the answers all came out sounding to me like “not as much as one might hope.” It’s clear to me that the profit motive is alive and well in Silicon Valley and tends to crowd out other concerns. Ms. Bowles kept pressing them with different versions of the question, “Are you going to hire editorial staff to make judgments about the stuff that goes up, and its provenance?” and the answer was always, “Let me tell you about this cool tech thing we are doing.” Unfortunately, that’s where they’d lose me. Either I couldn’t follow enough of what they were talking about, or they really haven’t made all that much headway in dealing with these difficult issues.

On the other hand, it was great to see a panel all made up of powerful, intelligent women, and I did feel they personally take the issues very seriously.

The ADL announced the establishment of a new Center for Technology and Society to combat the growing problem of hate speech and harassment online. Funded by the Omidyar Network, the philanthropic investment firm created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. I think this is a very promising development.

(More about the conference in my next post.)


 

 

 

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Two Post-Protest Thoughts

Image: A Protest Sign. Lady Liberty captioned “I’m with her.” Photo by Rabbi Ruth Adar.

I am exhausted. I spent the morning at the synagogue and the rest of the day (when I thought i was going to take a nice nap) at a protest at San Francisco airport. Now it’s late and I want to post something but the body is saying, “Lie down, already!”

Our president chose to celebrate Holocaust Remembrance Day with an executive order. It barred citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for the next 90 days and suspends the admission of all refugees for 120 days. (CNN) Our immediate protest was on behalf of the people detained at SFO who had the bad luck to have planes that took off while their visas were still good, and landed after their visas had been Trumped. I have spent some time as an innocent airport security detainee (a story I’ll share another time) and it is terrifying and miserable. I felt for those folks.

I had planned to blog tonight about the social justice tradition in Judaism. I know I’m blogging a lot about what some readers may think of as “politics” and I wanted to explain why I feel that I’m still blogging about Basic Judaism. However, that was before I spent 2.5 hours in a crowd screeching “Let In the Lawyers” and “No Bans, No Walls” at the top of my lungs.

Another time.

A couple of random thoughts:

 

  1. Please don’t take dogs to protests. They don’t know what’s going on and shouting scares them. Today I watched fearfully as a couple walked around with a tiny dachshund on a leash. The dog was visibly terrified (panting and yawning) and it was in serious danger of getting trampled. I couldn’t get close enough to them to lecture them on the mitzvah of kindness to animals.

    Big dogs are in a different kind of danger in a crowd. They can scare people, and scared people do dumb and/or mean things. When there are police around, it is advisable not to scare them, either. So leave the giant pit bull at home, too.

    Yes, I have a dog and I love my dog. This is not about hating dogs.doggie

  2. Think twice before taking photos and posting them to social media. People wander around at these things taking photos, and now that I have been home, I see their photos on social media. My face is already all over the Internet, but not everyone wants to be on Facebook.

    This also goes for selfies: think about the people in the background. I have sinned once in this respect, but I won’t do it again. Moreover, it took my son so long to take this picture that I’m pretty sure people who didn’t want to be in it had a chance to cover their faces. What’s done is done (nothing ever disappears from the Internet) but I am determined never to do it again.

    Alternatively, you can take photos of people facing the other direction. I have some “scooter’s eye view” photos that will not be of any interest whatsoever to Big Brother. (See doggie photo above.)

I’m rambling, because I am exhausted. Those were my two points. Go to bed, rabbi!

“You want to be Jewish and you live WHERE?” An Internet Mystery

Rabbi Jacob Saul Dwek and officials of the gre...
Rabbi Jacob Saul Dwek and officials of the great synagogue of Aleppo. Jewish life in Syria came to an end in the 20th century. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are places in the world where there are very few Jews, and where Judaism is officially or unofficially forbidden by the state.  One of the great mysteries of the Internet, to me, is that periodically someone in one of those countries will write to my friends at BecomingJewish.net and inquire about conversion to Judaism. 

All the folks at BecomingJewish.net can do is write back to them and explain that (1) it isn’t safe to convert to Judaism in their country and (2) there are few or no Jews there, so it isn’t possible to convert.

On the one hand, it makes me sad to think that someone who wants to be Jewish is living in a place where they simply cannot become Jewish. On the other hand, it speaks to a real misunderstanding of Jewish life, because even if they could convert, they could not have any kind of meaningful experience of Jewish life without a community.

Judaism isn’t something you do by yourself. It isn’t private, it isn’t personal. It is communal. We pray in a minyan, a group of ten or more. We have a minyan for important occasions, like a bris.  How can you have a seder, if you have no one with whom to discuss? We don’t even study alone!

This is why my first advice to anyone converting to Judaism is to find a rabbi, find a community, and to be regular at everything: services, events, and so on. It’s only by spending time with Jews that you can learn to be a Jew, and get the goodies of Jewish life.

As for the people writing letters from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to BecomingJewish.net, I have no idea what’s going on there. If they are real, I hope they can find their way to a place where there are more Jews.