The Internet, Sexual McCarthyism, Fake News and Marc Gafni
As we have seen over the past year in our election cycle, the internet has become a tool for the circulation and perpetuation of gross falsehoods and distortions. Unfortunately, we live in a post-fact society where fake news generates more engagement than truth on social media and has an enormous impact on shaping people’s viewpoints and beliefs.
I believe that the internet has created a public culture of misinformation and lies that have undermined the fundamental principles of human dignity, fair process and integrity. Instead of being a tool that we use to connect and communicate ideas that serve to unite and awaken human, social and planetary potential, the internet is being used to manipulate and divide peoples and nations. Fake news has now become one of the easiest ways for a person, or an organized group of people to take down political, cultural and spiritual leaders.
In his TED Talk, Wael Ghonim points to 5 challenges facing today’s social media. First, we spread rumors that confirm our personal biases. Second, we create ‘echo chambers’ in which to communicate only with people who share the same beliefs as us. Third, online discussions can (and often do) quickly turn into angry mobs. Fourth, it’s nearly impossible to change our opinions once we’ve posted them since everything ‘lives’ on the internet indefinitely. And Fifth, our online experience is designed for shallow comments over deep conversations. In other words, the internet has become a forum which allows for the bypassing all of the mechanisms of justice and integrity upon which this great country is founded.
In this light, I think you will find the following case study an unnerving example that speaks directly into Ghonim’s points. You will discover how the internet is used to crowd-source a witch hunt in an effort to publicly shame and ultimately commit social murder of innocent people. And finally, you will realize the sobering truth: That this could happen to anyone, including you.
Fake News and The Marc Gafni Story
The case study I will use to make my general point is the story of Marc Gafni and his alleged sexual abuse as it has played out on the internet. It’s a compelling case that’s gained attention in the spiritual enlightenment and Jewish renewal worlds.
While researching this case over the past year, I have become intimately familiar with the subtle and deceptive online tactics that a select group of people have used to attempt nothing less than social murder using social media, blogging, op-ed articles and press releases. As an online and engagement marketing strategist, I quickly saw how they were using platforms such as Change.Org and YouTube to build a tribe of enraged victims and their rescuers. I saw how they used Facebook to incite sexual predator memes and attack Marc Gafni’s character amongst the spiritual community. I saw how they collectively used and cross-referenced their own blog posts and press releases filled with intentional deception and misleading or outright false information to make it look as if Marc Gafni really was a sexual predator.
I can see how someone who doesn’t have the same knowledge of online engagement marketing could be easily swayed to believe the grossly distorted stories they see and hear online. And that is partly why I have spent a considerable amount of time in writing this article.
The second, and to me the more important reason why I have chosen to write this article is because I am a woman and a mother of a teenage girl who has stood against sexual abuse my entire life. However, As Cathy Young noted in an excellent discussion in Slate, the myth of the lying woman has been replaced by the myth of the woman -or group of women — who never lie.
I find Marc Gafni’s case an example of the tragic regression we have made in justice, dignity and integrity in the digital age. Telling a false story, or making false sexual claims, and then using the internet to spread these claims in order to commit social murder is what I call the weaponizing of sex, which itself is a terrible form of sexual abuse causing immense trauma and suffering.
The Case Of Marc Gafni
In the internet age, it is not uncommon for a small group of people to effectively conduct a campaign to discredit a public figure by repeating false or distorted statements over and over until they are assumed to be true.
Nonetheless, by both the moral and legal laws of this country, to make false accusations in a public space is a profound violation of justice. Many writers were self evidently enrolled by the organizers of the smear campaign to write blog posts, op-ed articles, press releases and online letters attacking Marc Gafni over the past year. Though most of these people have never met or talked to Gafni, their articles literally appeared at the exact same time, out of nowhere. It’s seems that they had no qualms about doing their best- with no fact checking whatsoever- to destroy his reputation.
Who Are The Key Players?
There’s always a motive in a false sexual story, and often people encouraging the story behind the scenes. While I can’t definitively point the finger at any one or two people who are the key organizers of the smear campaign against Marc Gafni, I’ve done some of my own informal research to see what I could find.
Stephen Dinan: Founder Shift Network, an online platform that promotes and sells courses and events for spiritual seekers. There are email communications from key figures including Stephen Dinan, that indicate that this most recent smear campaign against Marc Gafni was carefully orchestrated and planned. Others who have been in touch with the Center For Integral Wisdom have shared conversations they had with Dinan that tie him directly to the orchestration of the smear campaign. Many teachers who work for Dinan at the Shift Network (and therefore have real financial dependency on him) were enlisted to sign a letter against working with Marc Gafni despite the fact that many of them have never met him, let alone know him.
Barbara Marx Hubbard, considered the preeminent voice for Evolutionary Women in the world today, recently released a compelling video and article giving crucial background information about who Stephen Dinan is and what might have motivated him to initiate the smear campaign against Marc Gafni. According to Hubbard, it seems that a dangerous combination of power, politics and wounded feelings triggered Dinan’s attack which he cleverly hid behind the veneer of victim advocacy.
When I contacted Hubbard about her video and article, she shared with me that she had urged Stephen Dinan several times to meet in a “facilitated meditation to check facts and create appropriate resolution with the framework of Sacred American principles of justice and integrity”.
Rabbi David Ingber: Former student of Marc Gafni, currently one of Stephen Dinan’s teachers for the Shift Network. An online petition was circulated David Ingber in early 2016 to ‘Stop Marc Gafni From Abusing Again’.
The question you might have is: Why would a former student of Gafni’s (who by the way, he ordained as a Rabbi) do this?
In order to answer that question, you need to know the following:
In May 2005, Marc Gafni expelled Ingber from his study program for what he stated as, “very serious ethical violations”. Gafni related to me in an interview that on the surface, Ingber apparently became extremely resentful and developed a strong, almost pathological hatred for for him and sought to undermine him. Gafni proceeded to tell a story that seems to reveal even deeper motives. He said that at their very first meeting Ingber, moved between love and appreciation and dark anger.
“At the end of the first weekend that I met David, he expressed his appreciation and love for all that he had learned and experienced. But then he asked to speak to me again after the closing circle. I said, sure. We met and he lashed into me with a shocking viciousness. We had literally just met two days before. He said I was like his father. The malevolence in that meeting was palpable. But instead of causing me to move away from David, I moved towards him. I thought that through love and friendship and teaching, we could heal whatever that deep primal wound was. It was only years later that I realized that I simply did not fathom either how deep the wound was nor how well hidden it was”.
A year later, in May 2006, Ingber became a central figure in false complaints of sexual harassment made against Marc Gafni in Israel. The complaints were initiated by Mia Cohen, a close associate of Ingber’s. Gafni has responded to Ingber’s false claims, distortions and crucially omitted context in a set of videos that give one serious reason to believe that he was involved in catalyzing the complaints.
Adding another layer to the story, Ingber worked together with Gafni’s former wife Chaya Lester, who has explicitly acknowledged being involved in organizing the false complaints. There is extensive evidence to show that the complaints were false and that in fact, no complaints were ever filed against Gafni. Gafni has responded to Chaya Lesters false claims in an extensive article and a series of videos.
Several writers, including myself, and many professional evaluators have reviewed hundreds of email correspondences between Gafni and his accusers which show an entirely different story of the relationship than what is reported in their articles, posts and videos. These experts include an expert polygrapher, psychological evaluators, thought leaders, journalists, Integral scholars and legal evaluators. All of this material is available for the public.
What the public at large, or anyone searching for information about Marc Gafni online, has not realized is that David Ingber and Chaya Lester, both key figures in the recent smear campaign of 2016, were also the key figures in the false complaints and smear campaign against Gafni in 2006. They call themselves ‘rescuers’ of ‘victims’ yet hide the fact that they had powerful personal motives for attacking Gafni, which they have managed to disguise both publicly and privately. All of this remains hidden from the public eye.
The Internet and Sexual McCarthyism
This kind of false attack has been appropriately labeled by Prof. Alan Dershowitz as ‘sexual McCarthyism’. In the 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy made a career out of accusing innocent people of communist sympathies. He essentially hijacked the understandable repulsion that Americans felt for the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and used his power as a public figure to smear innocent people and to demand that their friends denounce them.
In Marc Gafni’s case however, as in so many other contemporary stories, there is one major additional factor at play: the Internet.
While the Internet has given people across the world, who may never otherwise have had the ability to express themselves, an opportunity to liberate their voice, it has also been used to abuse innocent people. Anyone can decide to use McCarthyism tactics without having to confront the object of their attack or without any meaningful social consequences because as Wael Ghonim points out, we create echo-chambers where we only communicate with people who agree with our point of view.
That is exactly what this small cluster of people are doing. They are attempting to hijack the justified public outrage against sexual abuse, as part of a concerted campaign to smear a man using false or distorted accusations — and then pressuring his friends to denounce him under the threat of loss of their own reputation and even their livelihood.
As in classical McCarthyism, the hidden agendas, ulterior motives and true history between the accusers and the accused and between the accusers themselves is kept hidden from the public eye. So, for example, when a person perusing the internet comes across a video of a beautiful, articulate and intelligent woman telling a story of sexual abuse — they take it at face value, without question. I mean, come on… why would someone lie about being sexually abused? It’s so horrific, that we don’t even think of questioning it.
This deploying of false accusations as a political tool is a serious threat to public culture. Because the majority of Internet users either don’t take the time, or don’t care to fact-check, it’s easy for anyone to maliciously utilize this kind of cyber-bullying. It takes discernment to recognize what’s actually happening and to see it for what it is: a tragic regression we have made in justice, dignity and integrity in the digital age.
This is the first piece of a longer article on this case study which you can find here.
NCFM Member Lisa Engles, The Internet, Sexual McCarthyism, Fake News and Marc Gafni
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