To and From Facebook: Being Together in our World of War

July 30, 2014

Last week, I was sitting with a dear old friend on a shady deck. We were enjoying our summer vacation at his family’s beach house. Conversation turned to Israel/Gaza, and we commenced a now-too-familiar dance: judiciously floating tidbits of sentiment to mark each others position. Once we understood that we were comrades (who knew?!) we began ardently discussing the politics of both the Middle East and Facebook: how we were performing this same dance of timid sentiment in the space Facebook (not wanting to offend family and friends, not wanting to cause stupid flame wars, and in my case, as an American academic, not wanting negative ramifications at work). I suggested to him that perhaps, things being as bad as they were becoming, we did not have the moral ground any longer to be silent, or hidden (on Facebook) even if there would be real discomfort caused by revealing our personal positions.

Let me mark my position now, clearly, before I explain my suggestion that we take these conversation to and from Facebook:

  • Today’s Position: I am a leftist, progressive or radical artist and intellectual of Jewish lineage who condemns the violence occurring in the Middle East. I support BDS and am anti-Zionist for reasons of personal history, religious, moral, and political philosophy and belief. I am not anti-semitic and love and respect many people who are Israelis. I also love and respect many Palestinians. My father is a Holocaust survivor, and his family (all survivors, obviously) actively chose to come to the US after WWII for many of the reasons that contribute to my own understandings of this complex issue. Some of my dearest friends, family, and respected colleagues do not share my position. My position is that I respect their positions and hope they do mine.

After our discussion on the porch, I took my own advise and began to judiciously like posts on Facebook that marked the ideas and images that supported my position. I also carefully read the posts and links of Facebook friends who held different positions. I did not interact in conversation on Facebook with these friends and family whose contrary links I followed and read because I think comment culture is almost always degenerate and is usually not productive, and also because I didn’t want to become involved in a flame war with a friend of my friend in my friend’s comment stream. At this stage, I felt like Facebook fragments of my position and those of my friends were consolidating while maintaining carefully drawn lines of respect for difference of opinion.

However, as things worsened, I grew ever more bold. I felt it was my moral position to do so as an American Jew. After much internal deliberation (as much as I’ve put into authoring this blog post), I posted a photo of myself on Facebook taken at a protest (led by Jewish Voices for Peace and American Muslims for Palestine) where I marked my position by lying down, playing the role of one dead Palestinian child. I added a caption for further clarity.

One Jew for Peace: Me.

One Jew for Peace: Me. (Photo by Sheila Pinkel)

I got a lot of likes and even some re-posts. This felt good: in a small way like the solidarity I felt at the protest the day before. But I still worried about hurting my friends and family who hold other positions, and even more so about being properly heard and understood.

While the commonly held understanding of the Internet, and particularly social media, as echo chamber helps to define the situation I describe (because in these spaces we exert real energy to understand, refine, share, and amplify our own position), my current experiences nuance this understanding because of the real shades of difference, and actually care, that are occurring within such echoes. On Facebook, Jews within one family or friendship or intellectual cohort (and our friends and allies) sit in unfathomably close quarters as we hold, and represent, different views on this catastrophe. If we are American Jews—on Facebook, online, and in our communities—our thoughtful conversation and thinking and action about the current war can play a critical part in its outcome. I think we are all aware of this responsibility and power, which has produced our care but which must now inspire other actions.

So, here’s where my charge to leave and return to Facebook comes in. My work on Internet culture consistently returns to a set of criticisms that I want to share here:

  • YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and the like, work in the vernacular of the slogan. Things move best, and are therefore seen and considered, when they are easy to digest, “spread,” and understand. While this may well mark a position, it is only that–a mark. For things as complex, important, and deadly as a war, or a friendship, or one’s workplace and professional safety, we need harder, deeper, lengthier conversation or analysis that provides context and interaction. This can happen via many technologies and in other places besides (and also including) the Internet: on the phone, in person, and in lengthier formats like essays, lectures, and art.
  • Activism that happens only on the Internet–like posting, reading, liking, and linking on Facebook–is not without use or value (for movements or individuals) but is proto-political, and needs to be followed up (for things of real consequence, like a war) with engagements in the world (of media): like protests, conversations, and even media secession. In an essay on Feminist Online Activism I wrote:
“Activist digital activities need to create linked projects of secession. It is in the leaving that our feminist digital activism truly begins. Activist digital research/teaching/organizing/writing must dare to fall outside of representation. This is not to say that the Internet is not a site for our feminist digital activism, but only when linked, not to another kitty, but to a place, a person, a demand, and an ethical practice of being together.”
So where do we go, you might ask. In an earlier blog post here about the successful effort to free Tarek Loubani and John Greyson, I end by reflecting upon how to build and sustain linked digital and earthly movements for social change:
“Just as was true for the Arab Spring, social media connected us, spread the word, and gave us an instantaneous and satisfying feeling of support and community, but good old fashioned community built from deep relationships formed and cemented in real places and over long term efforts was what finally supplied the muscle, the meaning, and the deep, take away truth of this awesome effort: Tarek and John are free because we (like they) can make the change we need by working with each other every day, in the places we live, and work, and love. How we can sustain this work, how we can again make local connections move nations, how we can use dominant/corporate social media forms as well as our own networks and technologies to make the world we want, these will be the questions I will continue to ask.”
I continue to ask and challenge myself and others to try to be together in the face of this horrible crisis by daring to engage beyond (if also through) media: to have hard but respectful conversations online and off (face-to-face interactions, teach-ins, protests); to speak and also listen; to be willing to be enraged, saddened and also moved (to change one’s mind or actions or commitments). Dare to take time and space in the world, with each other. Ask a friend to forward you an essay or video they think is of value, read it, and then make the time to talk together, or teach it, or make art or protest in response. Organize at work, or within community settings, or at school to make a plan of action that is responsive to your location. I promise you, from experience, engaging and acting in the world, together, feels productive, generative and empowering on a human level, but it is also what generates the possibility of social change.
One Jew for Peace, me, moving in and past representation

Dare to move in and past representation

If you are reading this on my blog, Facebook, or Twitter, I ask you not (only) to comment, but rather to dare to take the time and make the space to engage in the world with others.

8 Responses to “To and From Facebook: Being Together in our World of War”


  1. This is the blog post I’ve been hungering for these past several weeks. I realize that the absence of physical eyes to look into as I try to speak with Facebook friends who have diametrically opposing views on the siege has made true, engaged conversation almost impossible; I am reduced to a position that must be defended against, even/especially to the point of not-hearing and re-writing my argument back to me – as if listening and acknowledging would obliterate my discussants’ selves and, even, the state of Israel. Even undenied points of fact are simply set aside. I can now tell, within the first two exchanges, when engagement is impossible, and I stop. However, I have gotten the sense that posting information and analysis from other parties provides the benefit of supporting those who feel shaky in the face of hostile criticism – from private messages in particular I am finding it is not simply “preaching to the choir.” And yet this takes us just so far until we can meet as physical bodies in the physical world. Still: am I over-estimating people’s capacity to change in the physical world? Has political position always been so entwined with identity that, as recent studies have suggested, the discovery of contradicting facts actually makes people resist change more aggressively?

    Oddly, I’ve noticed that I am more easily wounded in the online world than in person. Perhaps that is because the disembodied attacks come with more force and hostility than when I am before them, looking in their eyes, communicating in behavior that I am truly listening and giving my attention.

    Thank you again.

    Dudley

  2. MP:me Says:

    Dudley,

    I so agree about the easy sense of wounding (online), and for me also the worry (I guess I really am I Jew, right?) What I have been thinking about as caring. That is to say I am less concerned about “hurting” someone I love when I can talk in person, than I am in how these words that float and live in any context in which they are placed and received can also wound even though they come in peace.

    Your other point about change, well, the activist and artist’s and teacher’s spirit (which we both share) hinges on an irrational and rational belief that this happens all the time!


  3. […] Last week, I used my own changing Facebook experiences during the gruesome Israel/Gaza conflict to think about the often unattended-to subtleties of Internet echo chambers in light of family, identity, friendship and war. There’s been a great deal of interesting writing about these themes since, so I’m glad I’m part of that conversation. […]


  4. […] either of them personally), I began to think about their digital activity in light of my two recent posts on activism, media, and digital engagements in support of peace. While it was never my intention to […]


  5. […] Last week, I used my own changing Facebook experiences during the gruesome Israel/Gaza conflict to think about the often unattended-to subtleties of Internet echo chambers in light of family, identity, friendship and war. There’s been a great deal of interesting writing about these themes since, so I’m glad I’m part of that conversation. […]


  6. […] This isolating digital busy-work and exhaustion, leads us into the strangest and most cynical and sorry spirals yet, where we crave easier interactions, faster connections, effortless interfaces. Quick hot links, breezy hashtags, dashing fleeting likes, these feel right and yet also utterly wrong. Obviously, reading, sharing, tweeting, and chatting (within corporate Firewalls) are forms of activity. And sure, I do them all the time. I blogged earlier: “Activism that happens only on the Internet–like posting, reading, liking, and linking on Facebook–is not without use or value (for movements or individuals) but is proto-political, and needs to be followed up (for things of real consequence, like a war) with engagements in the world (of media): like protests, conversations, and even media secession.” (To and From Facebook: Being Together in our World of War). […]


  7. […] writing about leaving the Internet as activism and engaging on the […]


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