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?

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Read more at Times of Israel

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

 

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter