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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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