For all its value as a medium of global connection, the Internet can also be an inhospitable and sometimes menacing place.
Just ask Yair Rosenberg, senior writer at Tablet Magazine, whose bailiwick is the intersection of religion, politics and culture. A 2012 summa cum laude graduate of Harvard, Rosenberg has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The Guardian, and the Jewish Review of Books, exploring everything from misrepresentations of Orthodox Jews in the media to political anti-Mormonism.
While covering Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, the writer unwittingly became the story, when he was identified as the second-most abused Jewish journalist on Twitter between August 2015 and July 2016.
The statistic was revealed in “Anti-Semitic Targeting of Journalists during the 2016 Presidential Campaign,” a report released in October 2016 by the Anti-Defamation League Task Force on Harassment and Journalism, a body formed in June 2016 in response to a disturbing upswing in online anti-Semitic abuse of reporters.
Rather than give in to this particularly modern form of harassment, Rosenberg has become what he refers to as “an unintentional expert on alt-right trolls and their tactics.” In November 2016, he set out to expose those anonymous bigots and try to get Twitter to toughen its anti-bias policies. (Read Rosenberg’s account in his New York Times op-ed, “Confessions of a Digital Nazi Hunter,” Dec. 27, 2017.)
Is this the unavoidable new normal of social media? Rosenberg says it isn’t. As keynote speaker at the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council Annual Meeting on June 21, he will discuss how to make online communities like Facebook and Twitter civil and healthy places to interact.
“I think a lot of people are starting to become more aware that a) social media platforms are here to stay and b) they can be used for really good things, and c) they can be used for really bad things,” he says. “The question is, how are we going to orient them toward more constructive discourse and find ways that they should be a healthy part of our civil discourse as much as possible?”
In its just-released annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents, the ADL reveals that one-third of the occurrences involved social media. “Yair is helping us talk about that,” says Elana Kahn, JCRC director. “What’s the responsibility of the social media companies, and what kind of power do users have on social media?”
The luncheon program, built around the theme, “You have Power… Use it for Good,” will also recognize several community members who work to promote justice and equality. The Robert H. Friebert Social Justice Award will be presented to Reggie Jackson and Fran Kaplan, for their shared efforts to fight discrimination and injustice, with special recognition of Deborah Carter Berkson, z”l.
Kaplan, a white Jewish woman, and Jackson, an African-American man, were both involved in the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. and in the recent Jewish Museum Milwaukee exhibit, “Allied in the Fight: Jews, Blacks, and the Struggle for Civil Rights.” At Nurturing Diversity Partners, the organization they co-founded, the two provide education, training and consulting services that foster diversity, inclusion and equity within institutions and the society at large. Berkson, who died in February, is remembered as a tireless, behind-the-scenes advocate on social justice issues. Her husband, Rabbi Marc Berkson, is spiritual leader of Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun, where Robert Friebert, z”l was a dedicated member.
Judith Longdin, director of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Office of Ecumenical Concerns, will be honored with the Imitatio Dei (In the Image of God) Award, for her work in increasing understanding and building bridges between diverse populations.
The program aims to build on these examples of individuals who step up to make a difference, a message that Rosenberg emphasizes in his approach to online activity. “There are a lot of things that we can do as users on social media platforms to make them better as we’re figuring out the bigger-picture question of how solutions can come from the top,” he says. “Users can make their platforms healthier or more unhealthy, depending on how they conduct themselves, what they talk about, how they deal with other people and what sorts of norms they set in their conversations and in their spaces online. I think the stuff that we can deal with right now – that a lot of us, as normal people, can do – revolves around bottom-up answers to abuse on the Internet and social media.”
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How to go
What: Jewish Community Relations Council 2018 Annual Meeting – “You have power… Use it for Good”
When: Thursday, June 21, 11:45 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Where: Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery, 901 W. Juneau Ave., Milwaukee
RSVP by June 11, at MilwaukeeJewish.org/JCRC
Info: 414-390-5781 / AllisonH@MilwaukeeJewish.org