My Word: Facebooking the revolution

In the current technological era the world has a tendency to "share" problems via the social media rather than solve them.

By
June 6, 2013 22:07
AN EMPLOYEE adds his message to a wall at the Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California.

Facebook chalkboard 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

I think I have hit on a solution to the conscription issue. My Facebook feed and email went berserk this week as a result of what the British tabloid The Sun headlined “The Gaza Strip,” a story featuring four female IDF recruits who turned both cheeks to the camera, as it were.

If you somehow missed out on the pictures, let’s just say that any censoring was not for revealing military secrets, but for exposing too much personal information.

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The rookies apparently posed for the photos on their second day in the military, on a track which should train them to become instructors in the infantry. Another picture showed five girls wearing helmets, ammunition belts and not much else.

The mother of one of the soldiers thought they had got a bum rap. She said “the girls” were devastated as the photos were not intended for publication. I’d be curious to know what they were intended for, however.

The IDF, while reprimanding the recruits, reportedly offered emotional support and noted the soldiers were so newly inducted they hadn’t yet received instruction on the code of behavior in the military.

One wonders what they were taught was acceptable in high school.

I’m sure that none of the girls who did basic training with me (including the nonreligious ones) thought of dropping everything even without being specifically told it was against regulations.

Were the fab four/five so confident of their winning looks or so lacking in self-respect that they didn’t care about the likelihood of the photos ending up on the Web? I also wonder how much of the change in attitude has to do with technological developments.

After all, when we had to take a film to be developed at a neighborhood store, we tended to exercise a lot more self-censorship.

And “sharing” photos meant going back to the store and asking the person behind the counter to print additional copies, attracting more attention.

The photos – which went viral on the Web and appeared in newspapers and on news broadcasts around the world – show a side of Israel rarely seen abroad.

They do not, however, help further the calls for the compulsory conscription of the ultra-Orthodox. If anything, they heighten fears of what sheltered yeshiva students might come up against.

In the wake of their publication, perhaps we should concentrate on pushing for civilian service for the ultra-Orthodox (and Israeli Arabs) – and preparing for an influx of young male volunteers from the Diaspora who liked what they saw.

Funnily enough, the other snippet of Israeli life that went viral earlier this week showed boys being boys during what should have been a serious discussion on the phenomenon of cellphones being smuggled into jails.

After a long, hard night at the Knesset, Education Minister Shai Piron, an ordained Orthodox rabbi, had to abandon a speech when he had an uncontrollable fit of giggles at the terminology “the penetration of prohibited objects in prisons.”

On the bright side, I’m happy that, for a change, Israel was able to keep the rest of the world amused.

We could all do with a laugh.

IN THE current technological era the world has a tendency to “share” problems via the social media rather than solve them. Nobody can say they didn’t know of the massacres – and probable use of chemical weapons – in Syria, for instance, but the Western world is not in a hurry to help.

Earlier this week, I checked the Facebook page of a friend who lives and works in Istanbul. I’m not sure what I expected to see: Since we both love cats, I guess I half hoped that it would be some of those cute pictures and sayings of felines that have somehow come to dominate the Web.

I was in for a shock. My friend, who describes herself as “politically very liberal,” was updating her page every few hours with disturbing stories and images from Taksim Square.

Just as you don’t need to understand Hebrew to catch Piron’s giggles, you don’t need to know Turkish to realize how serious the events were. I did, however, learn a new word, the verb “to chappul,” which is becoming an international term for this sort of demonstration for civil rights.

“The Turkish Spring” has reinforced some of the dilemmas posed by the social media and technological advances.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan caused a smirk by blaming his troubles on Twitter, describing the social media as “the worst menace to society,” despite his own Facebook presence.

And as the protests gained force, Erdogan denied being a dictator but temporarily pulled the plug on the social media in his country.

Still, Erdogan does not have much to fear.

There is probably a rise in what Iranians in the 2009 post-election uprising called “couch potato revolutionaries,” those who feel they are doing enough by joining protests via the social media without endangering themselves by physically participating in demonstrations. This is something to keep an eye on after the elections in the Islamic Republic later this month, too.

One of the problems as a journalist is the fact that never has so much information been available – the Web is full of footage taken by demonstrators armed with mobile phones and a sense of outrage – and yet never has it been harder to trust what you see.

My guiding principle has been to opt for material coming from people I have personally met, it being so hard to verify who is really fighting for their rights in Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Syria and elsewhere and who is doctoring material while sitting in a cafe or living room in some place anywhere from Edinburgh to Los Angeles, hiding behind a false identity and profile.

The problem with this is that the sort of people willing to share information with a Jewish Israeli woman who happens to be a journalist are usually well educated, middle class, relatively liberal secularists, and often also members of the media.

That’s why I hesitate to jump to conclusions over the Turkish turbulence, the same as I predicted that the Egyptian uprising would not end in the democracy so longed for by Egyptians I’ve met.

Turkey, like Egypt, is a vast country. There is a huge population out there not communicating in English and not active on the social media.

It’s likely that Erdogan’s push for Muslim values – resulting in restrictions on the sale of alcohol sales and the by now infamous if shortlived ban on Turkish Airlines flight attendants wearing bright colored lipstick – was better received outside the cosmopolitan cities like Ankara and Istanbul.

Erdogan, too, knows the importance of keeping Turkey tourist-friendly. Tourism is a big industry and a major contributor to the Turkish economy. Hoteliers, market vendors and spa workers interviewed by Israeli media say they miss the Hebrew-speaking tourists who used to be common in Turkish resorts.

The photos of the thong-wearing and -baring girl soldiers presumably only increased the sense of loss. By the way, girls, in case you haven’t yet realized, wearing minimal clothing at the beach or pool is more acceptable than in army barracks.

The situation was not devoid of humor, however: When Syrian President Bashar Assad issued a travel advisory warning his citizens that it is dangerous to travel to Turkey, I had to laugh.

The writer is the editor of The International Jerusalem Post.

liat@jpost.com


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