When Blogs Cross a Line
John Degen is a writer whose day job is that of a civil servant employed by the Ontario Arts Council. He frequently launches uninformed ad hominem attacks against anyone who questions Access Copyright. Curiously, these rants are regularly tweeted by Barry Sookman, who ought to know better.
Degen’s blog of September 24, 2012 states that “…there comes a point when you just get tired of listening to the shrieking crusaders who want to take away your rights. And then those same crusaders smirkingly portray themselves as Nazis, just before Yom Kippur.”
What provoked Degen’s ire was a retweet of mine linking to a recently made video clip of the Hitler Rant genre. In this particular one Hitler rants when he finds out that his university signed the Access Copyright Model License. Some may find these parodies funny, others find them tasteless, but there hundreds if not thousands of them, including in Israel (if you read Hebrew subtitles you can watch Hitler complaining about being unable to find parking in Tel Aviv, or about the curriculum of the Faculty of Agriculture at the Hebrew University, among others). Producing those videos is, according to the NY Times, “refreshingly easy.”
Apparently, my tweet prompted Mr. Degen to suggest that Michael Geist, myself Ariel Katz, Howard Knopf, and Sam Trosow—none of whom had anything to do with this very ambiguous video, and all of whom happen to be Jewish—are behind this video. He then followed up with a tweet: “enemies of collective licensing in Canada happily depict themselves as Nazis… really”. Really.
To link the four of us to this video and to Yom Kippur and to suggest that we, the “enemies”, depict ourselves as Nazis is, at the very least, completely ignorant and offensive. It may as well be defamatory, but I’m already used to Degen’s rants.
But yesterday, Barry Sookman tweeted Mr. Degen’s blog post, and today jumped in and gleefully added his own dose of pious ad hominem attack, starting with “I can’t figure this one out. I’m a lawyer, not a psychologist.”
More careful and sophisticated than Degen, Sookman avoids any direct allegation that the four of us are linked to that video. Instead, he goes on a lengty attack of me. My decision to retweet an earlier tweet linking to the video gave Mr. Sookman the perfect opportunity to question my motivations and personality, and to call for my public condemnation. I suppose I should be getting used to that as well, but I’m still disappointed.
I came across the initial tweet two days ago rather accidentally. I don’t know the person who posted it and I don’t know the person who tweeted it. I watched the video several times and I am still bewildered by its oxymoronic messages. The person who produced the video might have thought that the suggestion that Hitler would endorse the opinions of Jewish legal experts is absurdly funny. Theoretically, however, this could be the worst kind of neo-anti-Semitic propaganda. Alternatively, the person who made the video didn’t pay much attention to the deeper meanings of her or his choices, or to how these choices might be perceived or taken advantage by others. I suppose it is the latter option but I really don’t know.
In any event, I retweeted it and mentioned my colleagues to direct their attention to it because our names were mentioned in the video. I also shared it with some other people whom I thought might be interested in viewing it. As an academic I’m used to being able to have civilized debates over controversial issues. In retrospect, I was naive.
I should have suspected that some people would devour my tweet and use it to ratchet up their ad hominem attacks, trying to produce a cynical baseless and tasteless Holocaust spin. I regret giving them the opportunity.
This is a new low in the debate. Hopefully, we have now hit rock bottom, and can return to discussing the real issues.
The sun has not set yet in some parts of Canada. It is still Yom Kippur somewhere, and the Ne’ila has not been said yet. It may not be too late to retract. Apology will be accepted.
Likewise, if anyone who followed my tweet might have been offended as a result I offer you my sincere apology.
Image by Ian Britton available here. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.