WELT Warns Me. Claim That I Have Hurt Their Feelings

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I actually said that it makes little sense to comment on WELT because hardly any comments get through anyway. Still from time to time I feel like dropping a line or two.

Now, I have gone too far. *drama music*

Under an article blaming the Pittsburg synagogue slaughter on Donald Trump, I wrote “You are sick. SICK.” (German: Ihr seid krank. KRANK).

Hurt and wounded, writhing in pain, WELT took many, many hours to send me the above pseudo-automatic email.

I apologize. And I apologize with the same stern seriousness with which Megyn Kelly apologized.

I was wrong. Of course, I also distance myself from Otto Warmbier who had also committed a very grave “crime-task” by stealing a very “important poster” from the “Democratic Republic of North Korea” DRNK to hurt the morals of the workers.

WELT Online and my Experience on their Comment Section

Germans are hardly on social media. I wrote a piece about in-group out-group communication that talks briefly about the platforms available in Germany. The most obvious ones are the comment sections under the newspapers. In the mentioned article I recalled my experience with ZEIT online. It took me only a weekend to get blocked from the place. I also registered with Tagesspiegel. I spent little time and got also blocked there after a few weeks. The next step was WELT.

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What is WELT? WELT is the third most popular political news outlet after Spiegel and Süddeutsche, and enjoys 69.8 million visits per month. It belongs to the publisher Springer, which also owns the tabloid BILD (and a myriad other papers and book publishers). BILD is technically the news outlet with the largest reach, but is usually not considered political. Springer used to be a conservative publisher and became a target of a bombing by the communist terror organisation Red Army Faction RAF in 1972.

Under Merkel the media aligned and Springer is now on the political left. However, WELT is still less screechy than the Washington Post. The sound is comparable to the Wall Street Journal.

I did not read WELT for a while because it had a monthly budget per IP for some time and their views did not clearly enough represent the views of those who actually run the show in media, culture and politics. The power elites are best represented by my usual paper ZEIT. WELT is considered a quality paper and their job is to speak to ordinary citizens. They do so with lacing the cover page with mildly conservative viewpoints.

Yes, they do call Trump a sociopath and compare him with mass murderers, but there is the occasional article that is overall pro-Israel and just makes a nasty self-righteous turn towards the end. Sometimes the White House gets praise, but purely on economic grounds. Left-wingers also want their taxes cut, but not other people’s. Sometimes even an immigrant crime story makes its way to the front page.

Because I did not read it for a while, I also did not pay attention to the comment section. A superficial look at it surprises. It seems to contradict my usual allegations that conservative voices are hardly heard anywhere because of the absurd level of censorship. People say that they want less immigration, that they like Israel, want their taxes cut, prefer less regulation, less nannying, and even favor openly the conservative party AfD.

So I felt that I could finally wrap up by blog. No, of course, not. I became suspicious and registered as a user.

The first thing that meets the eye is that there are no messages to indicate what should and shouldn’t be said. ZEIT online controls their forum with an iron fist because media types know that comment sections do more to persuade people than articles.  Tagesspiegel like WELT did not offer any guidelines. So I grew used to that during my ongoing experiment.

Both Tagesspiegel and WELT check each comment before it goes up. An obvious difference is the size of both platforms. While Tagesspiegel is quick to run through a comment, WELT will have to deal with a flood of texts and each takes its time. A discussion is not possible for the time that an article remains on the front page. The big advantage of WELT is that the likes on your profile page indicate how much of what you wrote is read once a comment of yours goes through.

Did I write “once a comment goes through”? Yes, it is only a tiny, tiny fraction of your comments that will see the light. And this is what intrigues me. What is the selection based on?

Given the very small number of comments that go through, I believe that the censors make a positive selection. They don’t read everything and therefore will also never block a user. They just skim through the messages and pick what they like.

But how does the comment section then look like a conservative outpost? I see safe selects. The comments don’t contain material that is rare knowledge. What is out there is the kind of general sentiment that you cannot help spreading over the kitchen tables. People say that they vote conservative party AfD or that they want less immigration. Important is that it does not get too specific and that no individual member of the elite is called upon to do this or that. There is the occasional oddball that makes conservatives look stupid. Jokes are completely absent because the messaging of jokes cannot be controlled and people are more likely to be convinced with jokes than with long-winding texts.

This is what Noam Chomsky famously called the “controlled opposition.” You give the impression that some criticism is heard, but you don’t show the full range of options or new information. Criticism looks repetitive and dull. The German left repeats over and over again that the right “would not have answers.” Of course, Clinton did the same, but Trump was putting out his policy papers online and could leapfrog the media. In Germany information is so tight that people who are not actively seeking will come to the conclusion that there are no ideas but the “throw tax money at it” solution for every problem. I understand that some Americans are also caught in that CNN bubble which makes them believe there was no Trumpian policy. They simultaneously believe that he is enforcing fascism and also that he does nothing but eat fast food and watch TV. Imagine almost an entire country in such a CNN-like bubble.

What is ironic about this is that for the lack of policy discussions German media almost exclusively talks about foreign countries, much like the media in totalitarian regimes. When it does talk about German politicians – which is different from policies – they talk a lot about their calendars: who meets whom where. This is why you see so many international summits that all have no results but vague “declarations” of their intentions. They come with smiles and photos. And the media outside the English-speaking world is reporting things like when the plane lands, what is discussed on the lavish dinner table, the general “topic”, the location of the conference etc. As if they worked. In summer the parliament goes on holiday and outside the Putinesque Merkel-holiday reports the media openly admits that it turns to other yellow press rubbish. This is called “Sommerloch”, German for “summer hole.” I’m not kidding.

The bottom line is that commenting on WELT is not worth the time. Even the most innocuous posts don’t get through because of the random selection of comments that are chosen for publication.

Blocked for Comment Section on Newspaper Tagesspiegel

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It reads, “Login failed. User account ‘BenGoldstein’ was blocked.”

I cut out Islam, made no jokes (or only benign ones), did not comment on gender…didn’t help. The narrow-mindedness has become extreme. There is no way that my choice of words, the “tone”, could have been a problem. Others actually behave rudely. Most of my comments were on the topic of antisemitism.

I would lie if I said that I don’t find this whole development depressing. How can a culture fall so deeply so fast? Germans are specialists.

And the French are following. According to ZEIT the Supreme court ruled today that the principle of “fraternite” allows people to hide illegal immigrants and break the laws. This is the most ridiculous verdict I have ever heard. It is the abolishment of laws as such and their replacement with gut feelings.

And there is this glib cheering that the article conveyed. The commenters either chimed in with own cheers or showed their teeth, “time to show resistance to the right”. What are they even talking about? Resistance against a minority that holds no media power, no government positions, no anything.

At this point Merkel is no longer better than Assad. We are only lucky because push hasn’t come to shove – not yet. Yesterday’s attack on the bus is not even discussed as a terror attack. We didn’t have any for an eternity because they are just reclassified as everyday crime. Label gone, problem gone. Without blogs and foreign press, you also wouldn’t know that neighbouring France had immigrant riots after their soccer world cup triumph. Two people died, many wounded, not a word in the big news.

P.S. 1 The way how my account disappeard lets me almost think that they got the technicians in to create a function to block me. First my profile page disappeared. Then I was told that my password was wrong. I knew already what they were up to. I don’t want to pride myself. But what is it about my views, that is so dangerous?

P.S. 2 Tagesspiegel belongs to the same publisher as ZEIT.

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In-Group and out-Group Communication

I’m obviously not a know-it-all when it comes to building a large platform. So this is a bit of a brainstorming article.

There are multiple ways to engage politically and everybody must find his or her loopholes to make a difference. Our situations are very different. While one person has more time and resources at his disposal, the other has got less reputation to lose and can dare more. While one person may have got useful talents, the other might have got a short drive to the local protest march. When it comes to persuasion, I’m not disqualifying any measures outside of needless violence. Political changes happen through communication and I will focus on that.

I understand that many of you are frustrated. German-Czech Blogger Dushan Wegner had a recent article on the necessity of spreading information, titled “Inform Your Neighbour like Yourself.” Re-published on the fairly popular aggregate blog Achgut. It drew 31 comments, all of which gave personal accounts on how futile their efforts have been so far. So let’s have a realistic view.

There is a benefit for communicating with your ideological in-group as well as with the out-group. You can go into greater depths with your in-group debates. And this is essential. The in-group is less homogenous than you think and you will only find out where you stand when you pit your views against some of your friends. Be careful with your tone. Debates are more like martial arts than like brawls. Agree to disagree in minor things and be civil afterwards. As a general rule, let others cut ties with you and never do that to others!

As things are, the major communication channels are controlled by others and many of those that seem to superficially agree with you might be delusional with far-fetched conspiracy theories or may have an authoritarian stroke. The first ones are at best a strategic liability and they can at worst be manipulated to turn against you. The second ones are the people you don’t want to succeed. There is no point in replacing a tsar with a Lenin. Checking these things out, giving tips for fact checking, plausibility testing (Occam’s razor) and clean communication is worthwhile for some time. Still, don’t turn in-group communication into some self-absorbing social endeavor. People get impatient.

You want to win. And while you start with the like-minded, you ultimately want to change minds. Even this starts at the in-group level. We are social animals and facilitate an impulse through our larger social spheres, through families, acquaintances and even strangers like taxi drivers or hairdressers. One of my favorite anecdote about Margarete Thatcher is that people often did not know where she got all the extra information and intellectual impulses from. Eventually her cabinet found out that she had a very knowledgable hairdresser. Your voice matters.

The in-group can also turn into a production site for ideas and tools. The weird forum 4chan/pol/ once produced a large amount of jokey pictures (“memes”) that would later circle through the wider public. And besides pure communication, art is important. If you see a way to utilize your skill set, go for it! The left does it, too. Hollywood is populated with people on the left because they sing better, look hotter, cry on command and are overtly perfect. At least this is what the left believes. The reality is that they promote each other on the basis of ideological alliance. Most people only learn on an emotional basis and spreading information is not enough to touch them. You convince with music, captivating stories, interactive (mobile phone?) games, dances, comic books, novels, theater plays and movies. And some of it might even slip through major channels before people notice your heretic messages. Just choose the largest outlets that are available to you, an outlet that accommodates your level of anonymity and is bearable in terms of censorship frustrations.

Last weekend I jumped on the ZEIT online comment section. It is probably the widest read comment section in the German-speaking world that also reaches lefties, although I should add mostly hardcore lefties. I have noticed a recent transformation that gives me hope. More and more conservative voices pierced through and I assumed that a critical mass of frustrated readers overwhelmed the censors and the paid propagandists.

Still many comments disappear and for whatever reason ZEIT leaves an “explanation” as to why so they can educate commenters about what they should say. Because of the sheer size of the platform, there seems to be at least five censorship boards dealing with the comments. One section of articles that is targeting the youth and has a separate orange style, can only be commented on when you log in with a Facebook account. So I had four left.

Because each of the censorship boards are over-challenged there are denunciation buttons. I am a free speech absolutist, but this does not work in a place where everybody but yourself is against freedom. You have to go down into the mud pit for a while. The first thing I did was reporting people who trivialize the Nazis to trash the opposition. To my surprise some of the comments eventually disappeared. I realized that the vast team of censors are low-paid students and not professional ideologues.

So I dropped short comments. ZEIT online checks new contributors for a volley of comments until they let you into the wilderness where the others will control you with the denunciation feature. Once you get denounced, you are back in the one-by-one monitoring mode. I think I was out of the mode on the four separate boards for a total of maybe 5 comments until some ass got me back.

I knew before that only a fraction of my comments will go through. So I opened the comment pages on separate tabs and browsed through them, leaving short, quippy remarks. Two reasons: 1. You don’t want to lose too much text to the censors and 2. you convince people by making them laugh or really, really angry (Ann Coulter wisdom). I noticed that I was blocked on some levels of the censorship structure because the comments on some articles would not go through anymore. Once all comments seemed to go nowhere I realized that I’m still writing to an audience: the censors.

I mean, you have all these kids deleting comments and I made them delete innocent comments complaining about antisemitism. Their boss may have said so, but …hm…deep down Germans know that there is something wrong with stifling discussion on Jew hatred. Actually, one passed and was then removed with the message that it were off-topic. The article was about “everyday racism.” I let it be known that a first step would be not to give the antisemites in Merkel’s government a pass as they refuse to classify Hezbollah as a racist terror organization. After they declared the comment “off-topic,” I wrote that antisemitism apparently does not count as racism and repeated it. It did not go through and I was blocked on this board immediately, but I’m sure that was a traumatising student job for some censors. Once no comments on any articles went through, I went for short jokes that did not necessarily have a political intent. So I tried to make the censors laugh. That caused a bit of a problem apparently because people cannot hide laughter and yet it is forbidden when it’s “racist”. So I got the complete treat.

Other bloggers tried to play the ZEIT platform, too. Luisman says that he was out after only three comments. I assume they were rather angry comments, but he also did it two years back. And I remember that I was on with a different user name for less than 20 comments and I did not get blocked then (I actually threw away the paper with my password for the sheer anger when they deleted a few of my remarks), but I noticed the short fuse of the censor who engaged with me over email at the time.  American Viewer had a long comment history on ZEIT online until they wanted him to provide evidence that the neo-Nazi serial murder trial “NSU case” was more expensive than the actual Nuremberg Trials. He quoted their own articles, linked to a website tool to calculate the adjustment for the inflation, and even penned down the calculation itself. Faced with the facts, they shut down his account.

Of course, I had a small range and a short time. I was not expecting more. I’m actually surprised that I did last as long as I did. For whatever outlets you have, embrace them. If they are big enough make sure that you have some control over what reaches the wider public. If you are able to give newspaper interviews, make sure you are guaranteed to read and approve or deny the final text. Audio and video interactions with the media should be live. Of course, the precautions are lesser when you deal with trustworthy people. Rebecca Hargreaves adds some of her views in the video on top (although I think she made the wrong decision because she is articulate enough to give unfair editing not a chance).

Ultimately, changing the platforms to nice conservative safe spaces is not an alternative to interacting with the left. As stated above you can further some goals within your in-group, but you should be aware of the shifting texture of the audience as you move through the wider public. Nevertheless, every platform is only temporary. Don’t put your heart into one!

If possible use multiple outlets, from your dinner table over Facebook to Telegram. WordPress allows you to upload your content on various internet places at once. You cannot and should not attend all these places. Let the computer do it for you. Just register and flush it out in hope that people find it.

I spent some time on the comment section of blogger Juergen Fritz until he closed it because of the EU data protection directive panic. But while I was there, I tried to hint to other bloggers and youtubers, to connect readers with each other. Whatever your ideas are to get the word out, let me know…by getting your word out.

I Missed The Boat on Spain

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Dear readers,

first of all let me thank you for your trust and support. This blog is still very young and yet I ran into many amazing people so far who leave interesting, often informative or funny comments on this site. Thank you very much for being you.

My journey to blogging began when I was blocked on Twitter. My first post was about that experience and I deleted it when I realised how petty it is to even talk about it. I regret that now. Let me recall for you the experience!

I took to Twitter because of the consolidation of power under Angela Merkel and the descend of Germany in what I see as an autocracy. I don’t use the word lightly and I’m not petty.

So I went to twitter and found that many people who I admire were there, especially English-speaking intellectuals. At the time, only a few months ago, which is frightening enough, twitter was a free speech haven while Facebook went full-blown Chinese.

There were not many Germans on Twitter. The first thing I learnt was that nobody reads my stuff if I tweet in German. The second thing I learnt was that you have to provide a stream and shouldn’t obsess about a perfect post. In short, I adopted the culture of it. That also means: off-colour jokes. Yet, I was definitely tamer than really anybody in English-speaking countries. Within the approximately three weeks that I was there a boatload of Israeli embassy personnel followed my feed.

I was kicked off without explanation and I refuse to hand over my personal phone number to twitter. Facebook was off-limits and so I turned to blogging. Yet, I kept in mind what I learnt on twitter.

My twitter feed was not about my person but about my issue: the human rights situation in Germany. I retweeted and translated headlines from mainstream German newspapers into English, adding only little commentary. I learnt that I must be focussed and not litter my feed with too many things that are irrelevant. And, of course, the golden rule of writing: don’t bore!

WordPress plays by different rules. One has to write proper words and you don’t have an excuse to be lazy about providing a context. I noticed too late, after establishing an English-language following, that there was a German-language blogosphere. But I am ultimately glad about that because the German blogger style is somewhat different.

There are a few exceptions like Philosophia Perennis, JouWatch, or my follower Heimdall Warda who provide crisp eye-catching information. But the German style that appeals to a majority is the long, boring diatribe where relevant information is far and in between. The attitude is: If you can’t handle bore, you are not sophisticated!

Ultimately blogging in English gives me the opportunity to share things that are quick and funny. I don’t have to type up everything myself, but can refer to people who have done a good job. In the end I am only a wheel among many in the machinery of information distribution.

Despite my realisation that I have to be focussed, I noticed that I can’t get others to talk about Germany if I can’t talk about other countries. It seems to be a fair deal, yet in practice this is a difficult straddle.

So I looked out to other conservative blogs which talk about other countries. And I see great people like Aaron Sperber who covers Austria. If it wasn’t for the language, I’d definitely reblog him from time to time. I found Cliff Arroyo, a dude from Florida who blogs about his life in Poland. Just recently I had a run-in with the partly anonymous conservative Israeli bloggers of Simply Jews (obviously I covered Israel before and will try to strike a balance).

But I missed the Spain situation. We all know that something blew up with this Catalan referendum. It appears that the big news agencies and therefore the media in general did not report on the destruction of Spanish democracy in recent years. It comes to my attention only now and I realize how the critical Spanish were isolated in the same way as critically thinking Germans.

So here I am and I have no sources. I ask you. Do you have any suggestions where I can find a reasonable, conservative, English-language blog about the civil rights situation in Spain? It would be much appreciated.

Thank you in advance,

Ben