PostScript: Beware, Greased lightning

It was stunning that within hours of this paper’s editor making private remarks, they were all over the place.

By HIRSH GOODMAN
January 19, 2012 22:59
4 minute read.
WIZO EMPLOYS 5,000 people in Israel and runs dozen

WIZO 311. (photo credit: Koko/Israel Sun)

Think of the power. Without being judgmental about what was said, it was stunning, though not unexpected, that within hours of this paper’s editor making what he thought were private remarks at a supposedly closed forum of WIZO ladies in Tel Aviv about a conversation with the prime minister, they were all over the place. Recorded by cellphone, disseminated by the Internet, passed on by bloggers, picked up by the wires, by 4:45 on Thursday afternoon on googling “Steve Linde WIZO,” I got 829,000 results in 0.5 seconds – not bad for an editor of a paper whose hard-copy sales are probably much less.

That our world has changed, we all know and appreciate. We have also been made aware of many of the negative consequences of the Internet, like bullying on social media, sexual entrapment of minors, illegal gambling, pornography and precise instructions for making nuclear weapons, among other things. But there seems to be one issue beyond resolution: How does one contain gossip and slander? Who is accountable for passing on malicious, unchecked defamation of people, businesses, plays, restaurants and the butcher shop across the road now competing with mine? How does one hold accountable “SnailHump” or “PurpleSneeze” and the others, who blog away, saying whatever they like, to whoever they like, and can’t believe seeing their rubbish multiply like flies on a hot day, and actually being taken seriously by some.

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Apparently, in the good old days, when slander was taken seriously they used to pour hot lead down the throats of the guilty. It is said that because a person’s tongue is the only part of the human body that has no limits, the Creator placed it in jail, a jaw surrounded by teeth, lest people allow it to run away with them. And now, no jaw, no teeth and no jail, just infinite addresses instantaneously reached by people with no accountability, telling the world that your sister works in the oldest profession known to man, and now go prove you don’t have a sister.

Obviously, one of the worst victims of this all is Israel itself. If states could sue, the revenues Israel could garner from claims would probably be greater than the amount the country raises from taxes; academics in England would be washing dishes to pay their lawyers, and the Swedish journalist who wrote that we kill little Palestinians for their organs, would be waiting for the lead to warm up.

One click on “Israel-apartheid” gives you 684,000 results, while “Israel racist’ shows a mere 35.5 million and counting. More often-than-not an entry into one of these is enough to make your hair stand on end, and not recommended for Jewish cardiac patients. Imagine the cumulative effect of 35 million such screeds? On the surface of things the new media we are speaking about are highly sophisticated.

In a perverse way, however, they also enable uncivilized barbarity. There is little as dangerous as a rumor. They have started wars and led to the deaths of millions. They cause suicides and sturdy businesses to collapse.

But now, these two base instincts and agents of evil, rumor and gossip, have an ally in their destructive tasks, like never before: the Internet. What could possibly serve them better? If one takes a step back and looks at it all, one can imagine that this is not a dissimilar experience to what happened when fire was first discovered.

A lot of people probably got burned, and much property was lost to flames, until it was understood how to deal with it. Like fire, the Internet too is a blessing and a curse, and can burn and destroy if not handled with care and the respect it deserves.

What it all boils down to is that every day yet another example comes along that demonstrates what a wonderful, but precarious, gift we have been given. Here, all it took was a partial leak, apparently taken out of context, from a closed conversation with a group of well-meaning women, to start a small tsunami that by now must be way up there on Google’s totem pole, and by early afternoon had the prime minister and his underlings running around in circles trying to do damage control.

And poor Steve Linde, one minute having buns and tea at a seaside hotel in Tel Aviv, the next at the center of a brouhaha over Haaretz and The New York Times, whose editors had just learned from him that Israel’s prime minister considers their papers more of a threat to Israel than Iran.

This is not a wildfire we are speaking about, but greased lighting. Wildfires spread and can be contained; here the bolt can be lethal, irreversible and indelible.

Users beware.


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