Tuesday, March 10, 2015

All You Zombies: A Lesson on Hate Speech, Identity and Blogging

I think this post may be of interest to both my RPG game friends and my political/religious friends, so I'm cross-posting it on both of my blogs Save Versus All Wands and Mahound's Paradise.

In the classic Robert Heinlein time-travel story, All You Zombies, a man discovers that he was actually born as a woman and that all the important people he knows--including his own mother and father--are in fact past (or perhaps future) versions of himself. It's a sort of existentialist time-travel nightmare. And it ends with the narrator uttering these classic lines:
I know where I came from—but where did all you zombies come from?
I felt a headache coming on, but a headache powder is one thing I do not take. I did once—and you all went away. 
So I crawled into bed and whistled out the light. 
You aren’t really there at all. There isn’t anybody but me—Jane—here alone in the dark. 
I miss you dreadfully!
I was reminded of this during the recent mini- (extremely mini) blogging controversy referenced by me in two recent Mahound's Paradise posts. Let me review:

In the first post, Dinah Silverstein Wants to Suppress Your Hate Speech, I cited another blog post, America Desperately Needs A Hate Speech Law, written by a "Dinah Silverstein" and published on The Times of Israel website (the link is real but the post was subsequently removed). It was an extreme anti-hate speech essay, and in good anti-anti-hate speech blogger fashion, I spent a thousand or so words ridiculing it (and then reprinting it in its entirety). Not to justify myself too much but my humble and still not very well-read blog followed in the footsteps of a number of far more well-read blogs such as Five Feet of Fury and The Other McCain that also criticized the piece. I imagined I did the most thorough job (I have far more time, since they write more posts than I do). Keep reading to see where that got me.

In the second post, Breaking: That Times of Israel Hate Speech Blog Post is a Fake, I reported that one source had discovered that on her The Times of Israel bio blurb "Dinah Silverstein" had presented as her own photograph the photograph of another blogger and activist, Nancy Goldstein. So, logically, she was Nancy Goldstein or she was someone else who had stolen her picture. I guessed it was the latter.

In addition, "Dinah Silverstein", despite describing herself as a human rights campaigner and activist, had no Google trail whatsoever. 

Soon, I updated the entry to take into account reports from another source--cargosquid on a blog post from Miguel on Gun Free Zone--that most if not all of the text from "Dinah Silverstein" was either paraphrased or lifted word-for-word from two posts here and here, written two months ago, by yet another blogger, "Tanya Cohen."

Important Digression: On Mahound's Paradise, many of my posts have chronicled mainly left-wing and Muslim anti-Semitism. But there's also a huge amount of right-wing anti-Semitism out there (obviously). Since Dinah Silverstein, Nancy Goldstein and Tanya Cohen, whether real or not, all appear to be Jewish, there are many links appearing on the first few pages of any Google search on the controversy that make negative reference to the "Jewess" Silverstein (or Goldstein or Cohen). See, as unfortunately just one example, here.

But back to the main topic. So “Dinah Silverstein” lifted her words from “Tanya Cohen”. But if you look into it–the best place to start is That Crazy Story About Making ‘Hate Speech’ A Crime? Yeah, That’s Satire on Techdirt–it’s almost certain that “Tanya Cohen” is also not real. She posted two and only two blog posts two months ago–both of them just as over the top as the one by “Dinah Silverstein”. Yeah, she wrote a brief clip for Daily Kos, but it was also at about the same time. She has a Twitter feed but it starts, you guessed it, at exactly that time and consists of nothing but three relatively content free tweets and numerous re-tweets over the space of two months. Nowhere is there a photograph or an identifiable biography and there is no Google trail going back any farther.

So, it would be too much much of a coincidence to believe one fake person lifted stuff from another fake person. It’s obvious that “Dinah Silverstein” and “Tanya Cohen” are the same person. The only questions (for those not asleep by now) are: who is that person and what is their motivation? Possibilities:
  1. He or she is a pro-free speech satirist (Techdirt’s opinion). 
  2. He or she is a silly person with silly opinions (perhaps a teenager or whatever), who is dumb enough to have dumb opinions but smart enough to get blog post placement in semi-well read niches but who for some reason wants to remain anonymous and steal other people’s photographs.
  3. He or she is a troll (perhaps completely apolitical) who simply wants to stir up trouble, mess with people or just see what they can get away with. 
Frankly, I think one of the lessons here is that there are bloggers, such as Kathy Shaidle (the author behind Five Feet of Fury)Michael Walsh at PJ Media and, well, me, who sometimes get caught railing against fake straw men (or fake straw women as the case may be). A sobering lesson for us all, whatever side we are on.

I'm now inclined to 3. But at this point it almost do
esn't matter. I've written a few parodies myself and linked to a few others. I thought of all of them as "Onionish"--close enough to be funny, but outrageous enough to be obviously fake--but it's always amazed me how there were always people who believed them. Weirdly (to me) those people would often appear to keep digging their own holes, so to speak. Rather than good-naturedly laughing at themselves for being taken in, they tried to justify their own credulousness by saying that the whole world was crazy and thus they shouldn't be blamed for believing another crazy thing, etc. Or in at least two cases, they started attacking me for lying and spreading false information, etc.

So, I'm going to do some of the above and not do some of the above (you may, of course, judge me or not based on that):
  1. The whole anti-hate speech thing is silly and sinister, regardless of the "reality" of the referenced posts (I know, that's a whopper of a justification, but still).
  2. The world is crazy (ditto).
  3. I'm laughing at myself (see, I can do that).
  4. I'm not going to attack anyone, partly because I don't know who to attack.
  5. I have too much blogging time on my hands.
  6. But so do other people, as much as I love them (see, that's another part of my justification.)
  7. I'm going to report this "story" as it develops, regardless of who it makes look silly, even if it's me (see, that's another part of my justification.)
I've been blogging for a while, both about RPG gaming and, more recently, on politics and religion. I can't say I'm a newbie, exactly. But I don't tweet, and the whole issue of trolling and anonymous posting with all of its implications is still new to me. I'm fascinated by this story (and that's independent of my own personal views on "hate speech" or whatever). Who is "Dinah Silverstein/Tanya Cohen"? What is their motivation? Judging from the Google traffic, not that many other people are as interested, or they've seen it all before or whatever. That's okay, and it's probably the most healthy attitude. If no other information is forthcoming, this will probably be my last post on the matter. But we'll see what else turns up...

Dinah Silverstein isn't real.
Tanya Cohen isn't real.
Nancy Goldstein is real but she isn't talking.
I miss you all dreadfully.


  1. Possibility 4: These posts are a trial balloon, being raised by sock puppets in various venues until a place can be found where it can be discussed and taken seriously.

  2. Not sure I understand what that means. That's not a criticism. I'm just new to this. The thing is, the pieces were for the most part taken seriously until the identity of the author was questioned.