Jon Ronson has now posted three investigative videos at the Guardian, as part of a series titled “who’s controlling the internet?”.
When you consider the question of “who’s controlling the internet?”, what would normally come to mind, it would seem, are totalitarian nations like North Korea, China, Iran, and Syria - states who routinely block web sites critical of their regime.
Yet, two of his first three exposes have focused on, yes, Israel.
Ronson focuses on what’s known as Astroturfing - a form of advocacy in support of a political, organizational, or corporate agenda, designed to give the appearance of a “grassroots” movement.
The first Ronson video primarily focused on one hoax video by an Israeli calling himself Marc Pax claiming he was denied permission to join the Free Gaza flotilla because the participation of a gay activist would not “serve the interests” of the flotilla movement.
Pax was soon identified as Omer Gershon, an Israeli actor involved in marketing.
An intern working in the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem had posted the clip on Twitter, and government websites put up links to the clip.
However, the links were removed after the hoax was revealed, with apologies from Israeli officials.
That Ronson decided to lead his investigative series with one hoax perpetrated by one Israeli is in itself quite telling.
But, it’s even more curious that Ronson decided that this single video, out of billions posted on YouTube every year of questionable veracity, deserved scrutiny.
Ronson darkly warned, in the first video:
“there’s a whole sub-culture of young Israelis making YouTube videos about the Gaza Flotilla…Omer Gershon is one of many.”
The subtext of Ronson’s video is almost comical.
Out of the millions of antisemitic and anti-Zionist YouTube videos on the web, Ronson seems especially concerned that some citizens of the democratic state of Israel produce videos attempting to refute anti-Zionist and antisemitic discourse.
Ronson seems intent on linking the hoax to the Israeli government, or the Israeli “hasbara” community, and thus interviewed producers of the Israeli satire site Latma, columnist, and Latma creator, Caroline Glick, as well as an official at the Israeli government’s office of Public Diplomacy.
Ronson shows clips of a Latma spoof called “Guns, Guns, Guns“, and, evidently appalled at the suggesting that Hamas imports rockets to fire at Israelis, asks Glick, incredulously, “Guns are Gaza’s hobby?”
Glick then replies, “well, no, killing Jews is”.
Nonplussed by Glick’s reply, Ronson then quickly changes the subject by asking Glick about the Gershon hoax.
Glick points out that, yes, it was a hoax, but, of course, the premise of the hoax, that Gaza culture is extremely homophobic, is undeniable.
Ronson then visits an Israeli official who may substantiate his theory that, as Ronson warns ominously, the Gershon video “may be the work of a new Israeli government department called the ministry for public diplomacy.”
Among the sins of this “Hasbara” effort by the Israeli government, Ronson explains, is the distribution of (gasp!) pamphlets to Israelis on how best to respond to typical accusations of Israeli villainy.
You have to listen to video, and listen to Ronson’s voice, to understand how comical the narrative truly is.
Evidently, the fact that Israel has a department of public diplomacy is, for Ronson, not only something unusual, but dark and sinister.
Finally, Ronson interviews Shay Attias, of the Israeli Ministry for Public Diplomacy, to inquire about the Astroturfing allegation.
We’re then shown Attias explaining to Ronson what “hasbara” initiatives his department is “scheming”.
Among the propaganda maliciously peddled by the Israeli is Ministry of Public Diplomacy, we learn from Ronson, is the fact that Israel invented the cherry tomato.
Yes, such Israeli agricultural propaganda is simply chilling.
Ronson then asks Attias the million dollar question: whether Attias’s office was involved with the Gershon hoax?
Attias definitively denies that the Israeli government had anything to do with the video, but, Ronson, clearly unconvinced, leaves us with a closing clip of “to be continued”.
Of course, the broader question of how, precisely, Israeli public diplomacy is connected to the question of “who’s controlling the internet” is left unstated.
To provide some perspective, in 2010 alone there were 14 billion videos viewed on YouTube.
Totalitarian states like China has blocked YouTube. Morocco shut down access to the site in 2008. Thailand blocked YouTube between 2006 and 2007 due to offensive videos relating to King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Turkey blocked access to YouTube between 2008 and 2010 after controversy over videos deemed insulting to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. On December 3, 2006, Iran temporarily blocked access to YouTube, along with several other sites, after declaring them as violating social and moral codes of conduct.
Yet, Ronson’s Guardian series is obsessed with one hoax video posted by one citizen of a free and open society, and views it in the context of the question of who’s controlling the media.
Evidently, for Ronson, there’s not nearly enough anti-Israel and antisemitic propaganda on the internet, and the urgent question which Guardian liberals must know is who is behind the insidious dissemination of information attempting to refute the volley of defamations against the Jewish people.