Instead of Blaming Facebook for Our Problems, We Should Look Inward

Oct. 28 2021

Since a whistleblower went public with details about how Facebook chose to ignore various findings about the deleterious effects of its websites, various criticisms of the social-media pioneer have been in the news. In particular, Facebook’s detractors argue that its algorithms tend to show users misleading and inaccurate information, as well as messages that harm children’s self-esteem. Francis Nataf suggests that Facebook might not really be the problem:

The cries for more responsibility are all aimed at government or industry. Yet as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (whose first yahrzeit we are now marking) repeatedly pointed out, in a liberal state, these institutions are not primarily designed to promote morality or to enforce it. Of course, they have a role to play: industry should understand that the legitimate desire for profits does not make everything legitimate; and government needs to support whatever basic moral consensus still exists. But as Sacks wrote in his last major book, aptly titled Morality, morality’s home is primarily in the third sector—voluntary communities that are formed around tighter and more rigorous definitions of what we should be doing to maximize who we are as human beings.

Drawing on a verse from Proverbs, and a rabbinic commentary thereon, Nataf adds that algorithms

don’t make up anything on their own. Their output—like the reflection of our face in the water—is completely responsive to our input. In this respect, then, the blame society is aiming at social-media algorithms is like throwing a rock at the water reflecting the ugliness of our own face.

For if we are allowing ourselves to wallow in partisan hate and never looking at the other side, it means that on some level this is what we prefer. If we are willing to read things of questionable reliability, it means that this is what we want. If we let ourselves be drawn to the bizarre, the silly, and the sexually enticing, this too is what we are ultimately choosing. As in real life, knowing that any of these practices is not optimal is not the same as deciding to live otherwise. No doubt, others, including Mark Zuckerberg, have a part in the blame. But what about ourselves?

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Facebook, Jonathan Sacks, Judaism, Morality, Social media


Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria