Rebecca Spence profiled my fight against cyber-bullying in a Forward article published yesterday. She covered the main bases of the pertinent issues well, but of course left out a few issues I wish had made it into the article:
When Richard Silverstein, a liberal Jewish blogger, claimed credit for shutting down an extremist right-wing Web site that listed the names of thousands of left-wing Jewish activists, the cyber-retribution was swift and harsh. Days after his blog posting went up in late March, Silverstein received an e-mail directing him to a defamatory Web site purporting to be his own.
The fake blog, called “Little Dickie’s Diaper Droppings,” wasn’t pretty. In addition to the scatological references, the site was riddled with graphic sexual innuendo. Even Silverstein’s children were targets: Underneath a photograph of Silverstein and his 4-year-old son baking cookies — lifted from the blogger’s own Web site — was a caption claiming that the two were making a bomb to put on an Israeli school bus. The site listed the longtime peace activist’s favorite book as “Mein Kampf.”
The case of Silverstein, a 53-year-old former Jewish charity fundraiser who operates his “Tikun Olam” Web site out of Seattle, is but one example of the below-the-belt discourse that has taken hold in the world of Jewish blogging. Scurrilous barbs and sharp-tongued insults are routinely tossed back and forth through cyberspace from one Jewish blogger to another, appearing in long threads in the sections reserved for reader comments. The invective often revolves around political stances on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with bloggers on the left and on the right painting one another into corners and caricaturing one another’s beliefs…
In the United States, Silverstein has invoked the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a 1998 law that covers copyright infringement on the Internet, in his attempts to have the fake blog taken down. Silverstein said that when he contacted Blogger.com, the Google subsidiary that hosts the defamatory Web site, to demand that the site be removed, he was only partially successful. The photographs, which he owned — and that therefore fell under the umbrella of copyright protection — were removed, but the blog itself remains active.
“Clearly the people who run these sites know they’ve violated copyright, and what they’re trying to do is thumb their noses at me,” Silverstein said. “But what they’re actually doing is putting themselves in jeopardy.”
Spence wasn’t prepared to name the fake blog author since I don’t have incontrovertible proof (yet). Previously, I’ve written of my strong impression that Steven Plaut is the author based on the word of another victim of a very similar fake blog. The latter is firmly convinced Plaut is the author of that blog. But according to a Tikun Olam reader, at a Kahanist chat room one of the members took credit for this blog and also owning Masada2000. The anonymous author of the fake blog also claims Plaut has not participated. So this chat room poster is either being fully truthful, in which case Plaut is not the author; or partially truthful–he and Plaut may be joint authors; or Plaut may have provided the idea for the blog to him and he executed it.
Spence also decided not to cover the two threats of defamation lawsuits by Neuwirth and Aussie Dave. My guess is that she wanted to focus on a single major incident in order not to diffuse the article. At any rate, I’m grateful for The Forward shining a light on this subject.
I was glad that Dan Sieradski spoke about his campaign for Jewish blogging civility, Jewish Bloggers for Responsible Speech Online, which I’d suggested that Spence include in her article. What I found entirely fitting was David Abitbol’s rejection of Sieradski’s idea:
Abitbol, a 42-year-old Jerusalem resident, said that to adopt a code of speech for the Jewish blogosphere would tamp down the free and open debate that gives it its zest. “There’s a lot of testosterone on the Internet, a lot of swagger,” he said. What makes “the blogosphere interesting is the fact that it is dynamic and anything can happen.”
Abitbol, of course, would be a top violator of Jewish blog civility as I’ve made clear here recently. Interesting that he characterizes blog debate with the male chauvinist terms “a lot of testosterone…a lot of swagger.” That of course, would characterize Abitbol’s own slash and burn rhetorical style. Full of sound and fury and signifying nothing…or maybe an eye dropper worth of substance. Did it ever occur to him that there may be many who don’t want Jewish online debate to be characerized by excesses of testosterone and swagger?
I also found it entirely fitting that Sieradski came up with his civility project as a result of being trashed at Jewlicious (quel surprise!):
The move, Sieradski said, grew out of his frustration over verbal skirmishes with a competing Jewish group blog, Jewlicious.com, founded by David Abitbol. Dozens of Jewish bloggers have since added the link, Sieradski said, but Abitbol’s operation is not among them.
If you’ve been trashed by Abitbol and his minions at Jewlicious you must have something important to say to the world. Only testosterone driven bullies like them would feel it was their right, nay obligation, to trash fellow Jews who diverge from their rather narrow religious-political views.
I haven’t yet had the heart to look at the Forward’s comment section but my wife tells me the comments are looking pretty vile. If anyone has the heart to wade in a few supportive comments would provide some balance to all the defenders of cyber-bullying of Jewish progressives.
I specifically want to thank Cecilie Surasky of Muzzlewatch for her support for Tikun Olam and its right to unbullied expression.