After 20 years, AIPAC is still behind the curve on how to use the Internet

By | January 6, 2010

Around twenty years ago when I was at MIT, I spent far more hours than I care to contemplate combating anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist and anti-Israel propaganda on Usenet.

This was back before the Web took off, and Usenet was the happening place for bigots, racists and nutjobs of all sort to spread their filth and lies.  There were a lot of them, and they were extremely prolific.  Some of them were working alone, but many belonged to, and were being supported and assisted by, organized hate groups.

My most potent weapons in the fight were Near East Report, a newsletter still published biweekly by AIPAC, and Myths & Facts, a collection of articles about the Arab-Israeli conflict which AIPAC updated and published annually.  Unfortunately, neither NEAR nor M&F was then available in any sort of electronic format, so I spent a great deal of time typing in articles to post as rebuttals to the haters.

Although there were plenty of hate groups actively spreading lies on Usenet, there wasn’t a single pro-Jewish or pro-Israel group with any sort of online presence or footprint.  AIPAC, the ADL, B’nai B’rith, etc. had all simply completely missed the boat — they were completely conceding the game to the haters on-line.  I was completely on my own.

Some time around 1991 or 1992, I finally got enough of a life (i.e., a girlfriend and a full-time job 😉 that I had no interest in continuing to spend the many hours per week that I was spending fighting the hate.  Given that I had been relying on information published by AIPAC, I decided to try to get in touch with someone at AIPAC who might be able to allocate resources to put their stuff on-line, hire some people to fight hate on Usenet, etc.  Somehow, I actually succeeded at reaching the right person, and he and I had a long telephone conversation.  I can still remember pacing back and forth with my cell phone in the lounge of the old Boston University Hillel building while trying, unsuccessfully, to convince him that on-line hate was a significant enough problem to warrant AIPAC expending some resources to combat it.  AIPAC was completely unaware of the hate being spread on-line.

That has changed, obviously, but it was somewhat disillusioning to me to realize just how clueless AIPAC was about technology and its potential both for spreading hate and opposing it.

Now fast-forward 20 years, to November 2009.  Somehow, my wife got her email address into AIPAC’s database (she insists that she never subscribed to any of their lists or gave them or anyone else permission to subscribe her), and they started spamming her.  She clicked on the unsubscribe link in the first spam message she received from them.  A little over a month later, they spammed her again.  I sent them and their network service providers a strongly worded complaint, to which I received no response.  Two weeks later, they spammed my wife a third time, so I picked up the phone, called their national headquarters (202-639-5198), and asked to speak to whoever was responsible for the fact that AIPAC continued to spam my wife despite repeated requests for them to stop.

The woman who answered the phone, who identified herself as Julia, asked for my wife’s name and email address and said that she would ensure that she was properly unsubscribed.  I said that while I would appreciate if she did that, I was more concerned with what was going to be done about the larger problem that their unsubscribe link didn’t work and my email to them had gone unanswered.

Paraphrasing her response: “Problem?  What problem?  I don’t see a problem.”

We went back and forth several times with me trying, unsuccessfully, to get her to acknowledge that (a) when there’s an unsubscribe link in your bulk email, it should work; (b) when someone sends you email asking to be unsubscribed, you should unsubscribe them and send them a response; (c) making people call your national headquarters to unsubscribe is not OK; and (c) making the on-line unsubscribe process work properly is more important than unsubscribing one complaining person.

When I expressed my dissatisfaction with her handling of the matter and asked to speak to someone else, Julia insisted that she was solely responsible for AIPAC’s bulk e-mail processes and there was no one else with whom I could speak.

Twenty years ago, AIPAC was completely clueless of on-line hate speech, which had been getting worse and worse for years.  Now, AIPAC is completely clueless about responsible bulk email practices and not being a source of spam, a problem which has been getting worse and worse for years.  Go figure.

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