Amidst the seemingly endless alphabet soup of Jewish communal organizations, not to mention the hundreds if not thousands of positions in them all, one new position recently caught our eye. The Anti-Defamation League has created a potion to fight anti-Semitism and bigotry on the internet.
The problem is clear. Bigotry has ballooned with the advent of online communication. Anti-Semitic posts are way too numerous to count or even to classify. Suffice to say that electronic anti-Semitic communications now pervade whole countries; they express the depths of wickedness; they are blunt, ugly, utterly absent of shame. They would make Hitler’s chief anti-Semitic propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, rejoice, were he here to see the bastard offspring he has left behind.
The ADL has hired Brittan Heller, a lawyer who has prosecuted cyber crime at the US Dept. of Justice and the International Criminal Court in The Hague. She will work in collaboration with technology companies and law enforcement.
We hope that she conceives of her mandate as much larger than technical and legal. The problem is not just catching, prosecuting or shutting down the anti-Semites; the problem is not even countering, condemning or refuting anti-Semitism per se.
The internet is a whole new world of communication; it is a whole new culture. Until that new world is understood and greeted with a worldwide if selective counter-culture, the seedbed in which cyber-anti-Semitism flourishes will continue, no matter how many cyber criminals may be stymied. We commend to Ms. Brittan Heller the relevant chapters in a new book, False Facts and True Rumors, by Daniel Feldman.
Feldman cites, synopsizes and analyzes much research from the likes of books entitled, Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality and Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob. These and other works delineate frighteningly new, internet-driven dimensions of humanity, such as a radical reduction in human empathy; the lure, the effects and the complications of anonymous communication; the consequences of both for credibility; the difficulty of discerning tone in electronic communications — and many, many more related and difficult phenomena.
Anti-Semitism online is much more than a technical problem and a new field for anti-Semites. They have brilliantly mastered and exploited the new rules in the massive cultural revolution that electronic communication has spawned. Without grasping this revolution per se and figuring out how to begin to counter its downsides, any anti-cyber-bigotry effort will fight a losing battle with sporadic victories, at best.
We commend the ADL for tackling this major issue and wish Ms. Heller all success in her critical tasks ahead.
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