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Are We Biased Against Your Sub-Group?

July 10, 2012 – 9:04 pm29 Comments

Galus Australis’ agenda revealed

Anthony Frosh, co-editor of Galus Australis, responds to various negative perceptions.

We recently received some feedback from a correspondent who wrote, “Within the frum community … [Galus Australis] is seen as having an anti-religious agenda, and one that allows hateful comments to be posted.”  The correspondent asked if we could address this issue via a published article, so here goes…

I am not going to try to define who is and is not part of the frum community. However, it is fair to assume that the correspondent is using the term to define a narrower group of people than I might include, and is probably referring to a sub-section of the frum community.

The fact that a particular subgroup of the Jewish community feels that our publication has a hostile bias against their group is unfortunate, inaccurate, but of little surprise. Their perception is consistent with the Hostile Media Phenomenon. This is where people perceive the media to be biased against their particular identity-group. It is such a robust phenomenon that in some situations, opposing groups of partisans each find the exact same piece of media hostile to their own group. This phenomenon has been scientifically demonstrated in numerous studies.

And indeed, Galus is often criticised by other sections of the community. A most amusing and recent case in point was The Finkler Question panel that we organised for Limmud Oz last month.  In the lead up to Limmud Oz, we promoted this panel on Facebook, including the list of panellists. A Jewish member of the (reactionary?) left questioned the diversity of the range of panellists. I treated it as a reasonable question, and responded that “if there is someone else who would sincerely like to be on the panel (and has read the book!), please feel free to contact me.” Larry Stillman, another member of the reactionary left, then left a comment immediately under my response, so we can be sure that he read my offer, though we received no request from him or anyone else to be on the panel (I guess the criterion of having read the book was too imposing!). However, none of this prevented Stillman, of complaining after the fact, not only about the lack of diversity on the panel (a session he did not even attend), but also that he wasn’t invited to be on the panel, despite his admission that he neither responded to our offer, nor completed reading the book.  Of course, Stillman demonstrates his own commitment to pluralism by blocking people on Facebook who offer views that challenge his own.

Thus it can be seen that some people will criticise Galus based on sincere (if neither accurate nor objective) perceptions, while others will criticise Galus based on insincere distortions. The truth is that Galus Australis doesn’t have a political or religious agenda. The range of articles published is largely determined by what people in the community choose to submit.  We also encourage people to submit counter-point articles (right-of-replies).

With regard to allowing nasty and hateful comments to be published, there is no doubt that there are such comments to be found on Galus Australis, as there are in the comments sections of most online publications.  However, there is no monopoly on who leaves such comments. The hateful comments come from the right, the left, the ‘frum’, and the militantly secular.  There are those that hate people for not following their chumra (religious stringency), and there are those that hate people for following any religious custom whatsoever. There are those that hate people who support the State of Israel’s right to exist, and there those that hate people for not completely aligning with their Avigdor Lieberman-style views.

The truth is that while we do moderate comments to an extent, we would like to be able to moderate the comments more than we currently do. Unfortunately, we are not in a position to do that at this stage.  We have full-time jobs and other community commitments outside of running Galus, and thus we do not have the time to read all comments, let alone consider all comments for moderation. Typically, if a correspondent draws our attention to a particular comment, we will then consider it for moderation.

Ideally, we would have funding or revenue to pay someone to moderate the comments, but that seems unlikely to happen in the near future.

However, it is worth remembering that even mainstream publications with multimillion-dollar budgets still have nasty and hateful comments on their sites, or otherwise they have a painfully slow blanket pre-moderation process. And as is most often the case, they have both!

Thus even if we had the resources, though there is admittedly plenty of room for improvement, there is still no magic bullet. If we become too zealous in removing comments, we will, at minimum, stoke perceptions of censorship and bias. The demarcation between exercise of free speech and abuse of free speech is a murky grey swamp filled with piranhas.

So if Galus Australis does not have a particular political or religious agenda, then what do we stand for? Our real agenda is to increase community engagement, and we aim to due this via a commitment to pluralism. If you share this passion, you may even want to consider contacting us to ask how you can be involved in helping to achieve this goal.

These are the personal views of co-editor Anthony Frosh, and do not necessarily represent the views of Rachel Sacks-Davis or anyone else involved with Galus Australis.

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29 Comments »

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Frosh – I admire your commitment to the exchange of ideas through Galus, and that you have often published views that you don’t agree with.

    But it’s a shame that you use examples here which name with the intent to shame.

    The practice of using one’s own publication or forum (whether it’s a facbook wall, an email distribution list or an on-line magazine like this) to make overly personal criticisms is not civil and not productive.

    It has the effect of inhibiting people from participating in debate and discussion because many (most?) won’t comment if it means they are likely to cop abuse.

  • frosh says:

    Hi Mandi,

    I know the Limmud Oz Committee remained silent in the face of disingenuous criticism (from the same source, as it happens), but I’m not sure that’s the best strategy in the age of online and social media.

  • Ashley says:

    If the left hate you, the right hate you, the frum types hate you and the secularists hate you then it can only mean one thing. You are doing your job properly.

  • Harry Joachim says:

    Good posting. I echo Ashley’s comment.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    “Ideally, we would have funding or revenue to pay someone to moderate the comments, but that seems unlikely to happen in the near future.

    However, it is worth remembering that even mainstream publications with multimillion-dollar budgets still have nasty and hateful comments on their sites, or otherwise they have a painfully slow blanket pre-moderation process. And as is most often the case, they have both!”

    Bollocks. It is about your policy, not about your resources. It takes zero effort whatsoever to appoint a volunteer moderation team and equip them with the relevant tools to moderate content.

    The fact that you cannot trust people to do this speaks more about you than your blog.

    I run a forum which has half a million posts and we catch pretty much everything from cyber bullying to NSFW material, and our community moderators do it out of the affection they have for the community rather than a paycheck. What does it say about Galus that you don’t have those people lining up to volunteer to moderate at MOST, 200 comments a week?

  • Jonny says:

    I like Ashleys post too! And I really sprciate the Galus forum. Daniel what’s your forum?

  • Alex Fein says:

    Put me down as yet another who agrees with Ashley.

    You guys do an amazing job!

    I’ve said this on another thread: that often the people motivated to leave public feedback are those with something negative to say. The positive responses tend to be conveyed privately.

    I think a lot of people are really grateful for what you do and acknowledge that they would not have the inclination or wherewithal to maintain such a site.

    And how much poorer the community would be without Galus!

  • Liam says:

    Frosh,

    I agree that conspiracies abound. I think you guys do a good job of presenting many different sides of the story.

    What I think was unfortunate, however, was the personal nature of your attack on Larry. As someone with a much larger audience you could have taken the moral high ground. It is unfortunate you instead used it for, on face value, and I say this with very little knowledge of the situation, a personal issue you have with him. It was more tit-for-that anything else, which, as a general rule, is better avoided.

    Your wider contention would have been just as valid, and perhaps easier to digest, had you done without it.

    L.

  • letters in the age says:

    Galus et al

    keep up the great work and continue to put me into line!!!

    ;)

  • letters in the age says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6hL6fkJ1_k

    An infected mushroom track as a gift of appreciation Frosh for your blog….

    Thanks and enjoy !

  • Mandi Katz says:

    I agree with Ashley too – :)

    Frosh I wasn’t actually thinking of Limmud when I made the comment -and you may well be right. Anyone who knows me will appreciate that it was frustrating for me to be unable to explain what I believe was a difficult but defensible position.

    But I still think it’s worth trying to be civil… even when responding to less than civil criticism and behaviour.

  • letters in the age says:

    Be nice to Larry

    hes old and precious

    smirk…

  • Sam says:

    Mandi,

    In your post above which refers to L. Stillman, I expect that this is not the first time that Frosh has responded to complaints from him that are unreasonable and dubious, as that one was, re the Limmud Oz panel.
    Why shouldn’t he make an example of that, after all, Stillman argues his extreme views quite forcibly, and frequently on this forum.

    You could have instead complained about Daniel’s unreasonable claims that the editors could organize other moderators with zero effort, and that the lack of volunteers lining up reflects on the lack of worth of Galus. I doubt that you agree with that claim.
    And THAT idiocy, not the original article is worthy of a strong response from you.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    Let me see if my incredulity meter is working correctly.

    Sam, you are disappointed with Mandi because she didn’t attack my argument… and then you failed to make any meaningful rebuttal yourself (other than blithely calling it ‘idiotic’).

    If my argument was THAT idiotic, surely you’d have some sort of counter-argument thought up on your own.

    Or do you require other people to make all of your arguments for you? Are you so dependent on others that, like a petulant child, when the argument you want to see isn’t made you throw a tantrum and jump up and down and yell at other people from the sidelines until it’s done for you? How miserably pathetic.

  • Sam says:

    Daniel

    Judging from your ridiculous posting that misses the point, I have no interest in engaging with you: You could easily work out a rebuttal argument on your own. It is an absolute waste of time for me to respond further.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    Ah, but it’s not a waste of time for you to complain about others not ‘wasting’ their time to respond to me.

    And it’s also not a waste of time to respond to me to tell me that responding to me is a waste of time.

    You’re quite the special one.

  • letters in the age says:

    The above two posts are akin to a Monty Python sketch

    Oh come on guys

    Grow up!!

  • Jonny says:

    Ha ha ha… Hysterical… What would the moderators make of that lot…

  • Daniel Levy says:

    letters in the age, but kids have all the fun :)

  • Daniel Levy says:

    Also, Jonny, it appears the spam filter caught my reply to you. I suppose because it was suspicious of a reply consisting of a single link. You inquired which forum I run. It can be found at www[dot]atarnotes[dot]com/forum

  • TheSadducee says:

    If a section of the community perceives that they are excluded from this site because of overt and/or covert hostility from the editors and commenters then the editors (collectively) have a duty to address that (especially if they genuinely seek inclusiveness).

    One editors personal opinion with no real substance (other than to rehash an old personal argument) comes across as artificial and trite in response to such a serious issue.

    The fact is that there are some rather nasty comments made here, especially with regards to the religious and/or just generally of a personal nature. The religious themselves have made quite a few of them, but on balance I think they have a legitimate case for concern.

    I’m curious to actually read some opinions/comments by religious contributors eg. David Werdiger comes to mind. I recall him being reluctant to respond to comments on his own piece on the late R.Groner because he was concerned about personal criticism rather than substantive argument.

    Galus does a good job on average, resources considering, but there is always area for improvement. I think the eds do need to address some of the more strident commentators here though.

    I’m not religious myself, but I’d be curious to see a few more articles on issues that seriously affect the religious community – any religious want to contribute, contact the eds!

  • letters in the age says:

    As long as there is wit its funny , and it is!!

    otherwise its like the annoying and nagging jewish mother in law

    god forbid (bad pun )

  • ariel says:

    I came across this great article about exactly this topic.

    I think all of us should read it through and think about the impact of our comments on this and other sites:

    http://www.shma.com/2012/04/the-other-internet-problem/

  • letters in the age says:

    Great article Ariel!!

    Its about Respect and that boring notion of being nice to one another

    cheers

  • Jonny says:

    Thanks Dan I’ll look it up!

  • frosh says:

    Daniel Levy,

    That’s an interesting suggestion to involve the community of readers in policing the comments, and something we should certainly consider.

    I think that if we gave the community of readers a chance to ban some of people they feel who consistently leave boorish or obnoxious comments, then based on the number of email complaints we receive, it shouldn’t be hard for a smart fellow like yourself to guess who would be the first person to be banned by a committee made up of the readers.

    I wonder if you’d gracefully accept the ‘wisdom of the group’…

  • Jonny says:

    I have to agree with Frosh Daniel. In my year of GA experience it is only really your responses to frum comments that come across as “hateful”. In other words, designed to hurt. For an educated on liner probably worth some self moderation.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    Frosh, nothing would please me more than watching you appoint a group of community moderators. For exactly the reasons that you and Jonny claim :)

  • JarrodMuhary says:

    I guess one suggestion might be to try (where possible) to force people who register to use their real names… I find most people are more careful with their words if they know they know they can be held accountable for their statements. My policy is I use my real name everywhere, and I don’t say anything I am not willing to stand behind. Whilst it won’t stop every looney tune in cyberspace – removing anonymous user names would go a long way…

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