Welcome to the wartime TMI challenge

Is there a word for the despair one feels at no longer knowing who or what to believe?

It gets worse with every conflict: social media. A platform initially designed for sharing college memories and life milestones became a place for arresting my sense of truth.

Over the years, I’ve come to follow more and more people with worldviews and backgrounds that drastically differ from mine. I like it; it keeps me centered. It makes me feel just uncomfortable enough to keep on my toes, just insecure enough that I’m constantly sharpening my own truth.

At the beginning of this latest Gaza conflict I ditched traditional news sources, opting for scanning headlines with an occasional click, and instead followed dozens of new people on social media: Gazans, Arabs from around the world, journalists from a spectrum of news sources (mostly based in Gaza), and others. I had already been following extreme right and left wing Israeli voices for years.

Problem #1: It turns out, when you’re reading everything with a grain of salt, you end up absorbing some pretty bad-tasting discomfort.

The discomfort has turned into pain over the last weeks. And its sting gets sharper as I’ve watched a sudden rise in non-political friends fill my Facebook newsfeed with urgent, sensationalist, pleading headline after headline after headline (which I made a policy a couple weeks back to never ever click).

Problem #2: Everyone is sharing the same thing, regurgitating it to the same audience.

And people get fed their own homegrown-grade of bombastic propaganda. There seems to be no place to go to seek facts if you are following remotely. We can’t trust anyone else, so we can only continue to share our own hearsay.

Problem #3: Everything… but everything… sounds like propaganda now.

Every time I open Twitter – which is less often these days – I’m greeted with DEAD CHILDREN and antisemitic cartoons and RIGHT TO DEFEND ITSELF and NOWHERE TO GO and digit-heavy infographics and HUMAN SHIELDS and so on.

And no matter how much of a basis in truth and experience and fact each piece of content contains, whether you’d tag it ‘pro-Israel’ or ‘pro-Gazan’ or ‘pro-human’, the wrapping and the sharing and the repeating ends up downgrading its meaning.

A lot of talking, less listening.

I can only imagine how all this leads to misunderstandings of other realities for people not actively seeking truths outside their own.

Clearly, I asked for it. Maybe I’m listening too hard. And clearly, I live one of many many angles of truth here. So when seeking understanding of other truths, how far do I go? How sick do I make myself in the process? How morally compromised do I become? How depressed do I let it make me? The actions taken to erase my name, the actions taken in my name to save my name, the danger, the sadness, the collateral damage, the short term strategy, the long term goals…

Problem #4: Because each of our experiences is by definition one-of-a-kind, every person reading this will read it differently, to his/her own tune, to his/her own meaning.

Are we ever really hearing each other then?

All I have left to say is… if being a member of a population at war doesn’t enable me to learn anything new, to think harder, I consider myself a failed human.

An expat’s view: How joining Vine helps me celebrate humankind

Have you tried Vine yet? It’s the video answer to Instagram and Twitter. And in the tradition of most starting-out social media platforms, when I heard all the buzz about it, I could only react with, why?

Vine was iOS-only for a while, and this week joined the Android world. So yesterday I downloaded it.

First I scrolled through ten or so of the videos in my feed. Some were actually kinda moving; others were just lame. Kinda like Instagram. Or Twitter.

Hours later, I saw an opportunity to video something. Within 6 seconds of my half-Australian two-year-old daughter singing Waltzing Matilda, I uploaded my first Vine.

That evening, in a fit of boredom, I went back to Vine. I scrolled through my newsfeed, and then ventured out via hashtags. I saw everything – from the creatively executed #loop, to cheesy #magic, to the requisite #selfie.

I found myself fascinated in a way I’ve never felt through a social media experience before: I felt… connected, instantly, deeply, to total strangers. It must be something about video; Instagram makes photos of anything beautiful. Twitter makes joining conversations easier.

But video accomplishes something else. Even if it’s 6 seconds. There’s something about Vine, where you actually feel the person behind the camera. You hear them. In many cases, you see them or their friends. You view the animated world through their eyes. You see how people look, hear how they sound, take in their surroundings.

And taking it a little further… I’ll admit. The lonely expat it in me felt… connected. Opened to the rest of the world. Even if, to be honest, it’s mostly Americans I was watching on Vine. It was familiar. It was foreign. It was, for a second, like I could imagine being there, involved in the culture again.

After seeing dozens of 6 second clips, I started to imagine the possibilities once this spreads further around the world… After reading up on some of Coke’s global Happiness campaign, you really get this powerful feeling the world can be connected. It is, but it can be even more. We can have access to people we never dreamed of ever understanding.

In my conflict management degree, one of my biggest takeaways was contact theory. To interact with The Other is to begin to break down walls.

I find that to be true in every aspect of life.

Imagine all that from a ‘superficial’ social media platform.

Itamar family murder photos: A valid weapon? To what degree?

This is a response to an ongoing conversation I’ve been having/seeing on Facebook, reacting to the sharing of images of the bodies of the Itamar terror-murder victims, including the three children who were stabbed to death (note: neither of those links contain the images).

The issue has been that folks are posting the images of the dead bodies as part of sharing links to the story. I think people are doing it in haste, without thinking through the complexity of what it means to share these photos.

For my own sake, at the very least, I feel I need to clearly state what is going on in my head.

Here is what I’m NOT saying:

  • I’m not saying, don’t spread the news of the Itamar family with everyone you know, especially those outside of Israel who have not heard about it.
  • I’m not saying, don’t share links to news articles and commentary to inform people.
  • I’m not saying, don’t use social media to communicate the horrific tragedy we’ve been facing as a nation since last Shabbat.
  • I’m not saying I don’t understand why the family of the victims released the traumatizing photos of their bloody, murdered bodies – including those of the children stabbed to death.
  • I’m not saying I’m completely 100% anti the photos being released by the Israeli government (responsibly and with all due respect), especially to media outlets and world governments.

Here is what I AM saying:

  • First off, I’m fully aware I don’t have to check Facebook until the photo issue blows over. I’ve been scanning it cautiously, avoiding the images as best I can, so I’m being responsible over my own exposure.
  • While I understand the family’s decision to release the photos on a rationale level, I don’t feel the personal need to look at those images. Reading about the story traumatized me enough – as a Jew, as a resident of Israel, and most of all, as a mother.
  • We are a people who respect death and the dead – it’s written into the core of halachot related to mourning, treatment of bodies and purity. So it’s a bit of an interesting turn of events that the photos were released. And it’s equally interesting what the appropriate handling of that is for us, as individuals. Have we thought about it, as Jews? Have we appreciated this fact at all? Have we thought about how to go about this respectfully?
  • Some are arguing that using social media as a means of protest and hasbara is exactly what we should be doing. Amen. But that isn’t my problem here.
  • Specifically, my issue is using the images as a weapon in a setting where it’s not effective. Recognize that often, social networks are mostly a closed-circuit system for a lot of us. Facebook’s news feed algorithm is set so most of the time, it’s the people you interact with most who will see your shares. And who do you think you interact with most? People in your area, in your workplace, in your real life? Is posting a link to bloody images too little and too simple?
  • And is it the best way to connect with people on this story? Has anyone considered that many folks  unaffiliated with the situation may close themselves off to the story by being exposed in such an alarming way? Shock tactic is not for everyone. I’d hope people are thinking twice about their target audiences as they share these photos en masse.

Continuing on that, there’s more we can do, which basically comes down to targeting your audience.

  • Send the images and commentary to NYTimes editorial, CNN, BBC, etc. Those are places meant to target a lot of people from a lot of different backgrounds. You know, not in your network or even six degrees from it. And in addition, the media outlets themselves need to hear what people on the ground think, too.
  • Send the story to friends, family, colleagues and old college buddies – directly. Start a dialogue one-on-one and hit home with people. Mass distribution on a social network site can only go so far, as mentioned (algorithm, share-flooding, etc).
  • Consider starting the dialogue without graphic and disrespectful photos, and move up to it if you need to. Or after building a base. I’m not sure that alarming people with images of bloody children is always going to be the best way to go; alarm tactics may work on some, but not all. Know your audience.

Again, people making this argument are not at all against sharing this horror with the world, using social media or otherwise. It’s more a matter of maintaining the utmost respect for the dead, respect for the situation, and respect for those of us who need not be repeatedly exposed to it after already dealing with the trauma.