My Dialogue With Marc Gafni About Reputation Online

The videos of our dialogue are here and here and here and here and here.

The book (The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet) underlying our discussion is here.

Here’s a selective transcript of what I thought were the most important parts of our exchange:

Marc: "I’m working on making a movie on and writing a book on the dark sides of the internet. The relationship between privacy and freedom of speech and slander and Roman coliseum type energy in the blogosphere where there’s this kind of mass hysteria. A particular story we talked about this Shabbat was the dog poop girl."

From Wikipedia:

Dog poop girl was an incident on a South Korean subway that was recorded and published, resulting in a backlash by Internet vigilantes.

In early June 2005, the woman, who appears to be in her 20s took her lap dog on a subway in Korea. Her dog defecated on the floor of the subway car and, when asked by other elderly riders, she declined to clean up after it. Another subway rider offered the woman a tissue, which she used to clean the dog but not its waste. When other passengers suggested she clean up the mess, she ignored the requests and departed the subway at the next stop. Another female commuter, using a camera phone, took several photographs of the woman and dog, and posted them on a popular Korean website.[1][2]

Soon after the unaltered photos were published, Internet vigilante group, Anonymous, closely examined the picture and within days she had been identified and her personal information released on the Internet. The photo quickly became one of the most popular image searches on popular Korean web portals and a source of parody and derisive satire.[3][4][5]

The woman quit her university in shame and published a photo of her dog and a public apology in Korean.[6][7][8]

The reaction by Korean netizens to the incident prompted several Korean newspapers to run editorials voicing concern over Internet vigilantism, suggesting that the effect of world-wide crowds do not result in wise, uniform judgments and appropriate punishments via social stigma. The implications for personal privacy were raised. Some said that posting the woman’s picture was acceptable, but that posting her personal information was inappropriate. Others said that her face should have been obscured in the widely circulated picture, in order to protect her identity.[9]

Marc: "She was having a bad day…and she forgot to pick up the poop and went on her way."

"She dropped out of school and for a time her life was destroyed. Is that appropriate internet behavior?"

Luke: "I don’t remember the same facts. I don’t remember anything about her having a bad day and I don’t remember her forgetting to pick up her dog’s poop. She refused to pick up the dog’s poop. She grossly violated social norms in public… Someone was smart enough to snap her photo and to blog it, which seems appropriate. Where it went too far was to demonize her. She did an ugly thing and she deserved to castigated for it. Posting her address, bringing her parents into it was wrong. Anything beyond saying this was a girl who did one bad thing [is wrong]."

"You can’t expect anonymity. You can desire it. You can’t expect it."

"Everything we do will reflect on our parents, our community and our friends. When she did an ugly thing, it’s not surprising that her family was shamed. It’s not necessarily a bad thing… It has to be appropriate to the degree of the sin."

Marc: "The problem with the internet is irresponsibility, a lack of proportion."

"Everyone has a don’t-pick-up-the-poop moment in life."

"What the internet allows for a demonization on a Roman coliseum throw-her-to-the-lions scale."

People should always act as if their every public act is going to be televised around the world and they can’t expect 100% privacy for all their private acts. What you do in the privacy of your own home does affect other people. Everything we do affects other people.

Marc: "Levi published a long essay about me with about 50 empirical errors. He went through it and corrected the errors."

"There’s a sense that bloggers can say what they want because no one can reach them."

Luke: "The case of the dog poop girl reminds me of how human sacrifices probably worked in human societies. You see someone doing something egregious and you want to sacrifice someone to send a message to clean up the dog poop."

"Some people may have said this girl’s life was ruined over this. I don’t think her life was ruined. She can let this ruin her life, but I know that if this happened to me, I would respond vigorously. I would get that video camera and I would go out on the streets and I would pick up dog poop for days. I’d say on camera that I behaved despicably. I would thank the people who publicized me bad behavior. You were right to castigate me. You put up an ugly picture of an ugly part of myself that I didn’t want to look at and you helped me transform myself. I want to know how many other ways do I act in an equivalently ugly way.

"I would embrace the criticism. I screwed up. I bet this is not the only area where I screw up this way and I’m going to go out and make restitution and I’m going to show you how serious I am about transforming my life. I would set up a website and tell what happened and link to the people who criticized me."

"About Marc Gafni’s story: I don’t trust people’s portrayal of their own life. I don’t know how accurate Marc’s portrait of his own life is. I know that my own understanding of my own life is severely flawed in ways.

"What I’ve been doing over the past couple of weeks with Marc is been going through things I’ve written about him and where he says something is factually not right, I’ve generally speaking taken it down, and I’ve made a note of it in a separate file, and I’ll go back to other sources on Marc’s life and work it through… We’ll have to weigh the evidence. Get both sides on the phone and work it out.

"The writer and his subject will always have moments of tension."

Marc: "One of the great fallacies of what Levi does it to set himself up as judge and jury. He forgets that nobody actually appointed him. He’s claimed that job and there is an enormous inappropriateness in that claim."

"I’ve spent my life using every piece of energy I’ve had to help people."

"Whenever you’re a strong teacher, you’re going to have a group of people who….respond to you negatively. Like many teachers or artists, I’ve also had that group of people. To any of those people, I would sit down at a table in a facilitated context and see how do we get to healing."

"I wish Levi would find something else to write about [than Marc Gafni]."

Luke: "I get this all the time. I don’t think it is an intelligent or thought-through response. Who appointed me to blog? Who appointed Marc Gafni to write his book ‘Soul Prints’? His readers appointed him. His publisher. Why is that any more or less credible than the thousands of people who choose to read me each day? I’ve made a living as a blogger for eleven years. I think there are two other people in the world who can say that… Obviously those of us who are making a living from blogging, there’s something formidable about what we’re doing. Some days I get 30,000 readers of my blog. I don’t see how the people who choose to read me are any more or less credible than the people who choose to read Marc Gafni or Dennis Prager… Almost every form of major media in the world has quoted my work. That’s because my work is significant. And it is no more or less significant because I choose to work on my own than if I chose to work for some media entity or non-profit foundation."

"Marc’s second point — that we don’t have the right to punish. That belongs to God. Well, God explicitly gives us the right to punish. The only law explicitly in every book in the Torah is the death penalty. One of the seven laws of the Sons of Noah is to set up courts of law.

"I have values and I make judgments. The important thing is that your judgments be correct."

"I don’t accept that punishment and making judgments is best left to the courts. Court just as often get these matters wrong as bloggers do… In the end, only that which is right is right. If it is a blogger who is crying out what is right, even if all the courts in the world disagree with him, he’s right."

Marc: "We were reading the other day in the book The Future of Reputation, a discussion of any number of internet sites that just regularly slander people without checking. They know that people really don’t have the energy or time to sue them for libel. Or they publish salacious personal details of people’s lives by doing the circuit of cocktail parties and picking up gossip putting it on half true, half not true, knowing full well they’re not going to be subject to libel. That’s not cool. There’s a site called Gawker.com which engages in that kind of activity… That’s a gross violation of personal norms."

"In real life, if you say something grossly wrong about someone, you’re going to see them in church or synagogue that week. It’s the ability to kill someone by pushing a button. You don’t have to look in their eyes and wield the sword. Once you look in their eyes, it changes the conversation."

Luke: "As someone who’s made his living blogging since the fall of 1997, I’ve written critical things probably about thousands of people. I’m amazed at how clueless people are in responding to things they believe are unfair or inaccurate.

"Here’s how you should. You should made a good faith effort to contact the person whether through phone or email or fax. Be real nice. It’s in your self interest. When I get someone screaming at me over the telephone, I’m not in a space to listen to them.

"People often write inaccurate or unfair things about me. I respond to them and point out where I think they’ve been unfair.

"If that doesn’t work, can you take the person to lunch? That’s a great thing to do. Call them up and ask them for their favorite restaurant and offer to take them there. Sit them down and learn where they are coming. Talk to them for an hour or so, and after you learn where they are coming from, after you’ve Googled them and spent a good hour reading about them, and then say, hey, I think you were unfair in this instance. Here’s why I think that.

"So few people do that and it is such an effective way of dealing with it.

"If that doesn’t work, the next step may be to go to one of their friends. I have dozens of friends and acquaintances and if someone made a case to them that I had been unfair, they’d come to me and say this.

"Another alternative is a lawyer. Don’t send off a threatening email. Just say you’re a lawyer who hates dealing with libel cases and that you think that these particular sentences may put you at legal peril.

"Then, if necessary, slowly ratchet up the pressure."

"If someone writes something unfair or inaccurate about you and you stay silent, you are consenting to their portrayal as accurate. As the Talmud says, silence implies consent."

"Don’t just demonize the writer as someone evil. They are probably a human being like you, deeply flawed…"

Marc: "In an ideal world, that’s good advice. There are several structural problems with it. Number one, most people can’t afford to deploy a lawyer. Most people don’t have camcorders. They work for a living. They’re not engaged in the blogosphere. They’re overwhelmed."

"I did demonize you. Then I asked myself, ‘Maybe this stuff is distorted?’ However, if you had not reached out to me, the chances of us talking would have been minimal. And both of us took a great risk and tried to find the human being…"

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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