Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

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Me and Joshua Goldberg

Just after Christmas of last year, I started getting some interesting emails. Well-written, polite, and thoroughly researched, these emails encouraged me to look into, and perhaps write about, the increasing push from media and advocacy groups in Japan for a law banning hate speech. Over the course of a few weeks, I received several emails, and quite a few tweets, from a number of different people, all of whom appeared to be either Japanese women or Anglo-sounding men.

Now, this isn’t all too strange on face: I have written about the futility of hate speech bans before and am known for having expansionist views on free speech. But I’ve never written about or indicated any expertise on Japan, so the sudden onslaught was enough for me to question the source. I sent an email to my colleagues asking them to flag any emails they received, and asked a friend in Japan for some additional context. In the end, I decided that this wasn’t my fight, and that I wouldn’t write anything.

Yeah, maybe one of your sockpuppets?

Yeah, maybe one of your sockpuppets?

Though the pressure stopped, the tweets continued, with two accounts in particular piquing my interest: @MoonMetropolis and @DreamerRyoko.  Both appeared to be Japanese women interested in free speech, but their command of English and knowledge of global speech laws raised my suspicions; surely, if these women were experts, I’d have met them at a conference at some point? Nevertheless, I continued to take their identities on face value, until something bizarre happened: A lawyer that I’d briefly interacted with last summer in Australia when giving a talk at his law firm, Josh Bornstein, had his identity stolen (as we now know, by a man called Joshua Goldberg) and used to write hate articles. Privately, a friend figured out the Joshua Goldberg connection and we discussed it. I can’t remember how I made the connection, but back in April I messaged him suggesting that I thought Goldberg was @MoonMetropolis. I then forgot about it, as the account had mostly stopped messaging me.

Cut to this week: Joshua Goldberg has been arrested for the role played by another one of his many sockpuppets, Australi Witness, an Australian jihadi who encouraged the attempted terrorist attack that took place in May in Garland, Texas.

This feels so creepy. Not only did Goldberg steal Bornstein’s identity, but he used the Australi Witness account to encourage harm toward him. For me, on the other hand, he had nothing but praise. And yet Bornstein and I are connected, as are a few of the other people he harassed. Is there a pattern? I don’t know.

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There’s something to be said here as well for media literacy. I knew immediately that there was something fishy going on with @MoonMetropolis and @DreamerRyoko, and with Tanya Cohen, another of Goldberg’s sockpuppets. But I was under no threat; the really scary thing is what he did in his “role” as a jihadi. We already know who’s most susceptible to that kind of influence; undoubtedly someone as “talented” as Goldberg could truly have played a role in encouraging an attack.

Now, looking back at the emails, the weirdest part is that Goldberg identified himself to me right off the bat. Unintentionally, but nevertheless; in his first email, signed “Ryoko, an Osaka student and Americaphile,” the email header actually says “Joshua Goldberg,” as clear as day. I noticed at the time, but didn’t put two and two together until much, much later.

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I don’t have any conclusions right now. To be honest, I’m still a bit freaked out that I was in communication with this person for so long, under so many different names. This is yet another thing that raises my guard and makes me less likely to respond to tweets (criticism, asks, or otherwise) or people who approach me in bars. This doesn’t change my views on the right to anonymity (which I view as absolutely clutch for so many people and so many reasons) but it does make me more wary, and that sucks.

Edit/addition: A couple of friends have already contacted me to see if strange messages they received in the past year match up to mine. With apologies in case any of mine came from “real” people, here are the email addresses he used to contact me:


New for 2015: How to help Syrian (and other) refugees

"I Hope Humanity Finds a Cure for Visas" by Khalid Albaih

“I Hope Humanity Finds a Cure for Visas” by Khalid Albaih

Updated 9/2/15: The refugee crisis in Europe has many asking how they can direct their funds and attention to Syrian and other refugees here. There are many different initiatives, but here are a few good ones I’ve found:


Two years ago, I wrote a post about how you can help Syrian refugees. While I stand by the information in that post, I decided to write a fresh one that includes newer organizations. This post also includes some repeats from the last. Many thanks to Lina Sergie Attar and Sima Diab for their help.

As I explained last time, I’ve highlighted organizations that are 501(c)(3) US-based nonprofits and receive high marks from GuideStar and Charity Navigator, with a couple of notable exceptions.

Suggestions are in no particular order:

  • Save the Children is an internationally known organization (95.01/100 on Charity Navigator) and 501(c)(3) nonprofit that currently maintains a Syrian children in crisis fund. Their program is unique in that they’re working to create “child-friendly spaces” to give children in refugee communities ” a safe space to play and get support while keeping their minds off the harsh reality they are facing.”  This is important in that psychological help is as needed in a crisis as medical and other care.  Guidestar also ranks Save the Children highly, with a Gold-level mark in the Exchange.
  • The Syrian American Medical Society Foundation received a Silver ranking from Guidestar‘s Exchange and is not yet ranked on Charity Navigator (which requires 7 years of IRS filings). The organization has local programs in Lebanon and southern Syria. Their own annual report states that only 1% of donations went toward overhead costs in 2013.
  • Basmeh & Zeitooneh is unranked because it’s not a US charity, but Syrian and Lebanese friends speak highly of it. The aid group, based in Lebanon, works primarily with Syrian refugees in Lebanon, providing them with psychosocial support, food, clothing, and other needs. You can donate to their current campaign here. They also run a women’s workshop.
  • The Middle East Children’s Alliance is a California-based nonprofit that works locally and internationally, and is currently running a campaign to provide urgent aid to Syrian refugees seeking shelter in Lebanon. They score a 70.79/100 by Charity Navigator, due in part to high fundraising costs as well as their Bay Area location. Their financials are a bit outdated on Guidestar.
  • Relief and Reconciliation is a charity that runs a Peace Centre in northern Lebanon aiming to “help people of all faiths … to exit violence and to find a better future.” As they are not a US nonprofit, they are unranked by Guidestar and Charity Navigator, but their About page boasts some impressive credentials!
  • Syrianorphans.org is a small organization that received 501(c)(3) status in 2013, after I wrote this post. Though it does not yet have its financial reports up (GuideStar), the charity claims that it does not use any donations to support overhead costs, ensuring that donations are used entirely to support Syrians.
  • The Beirut-based Kayany Foundation is a registered NGO in Lebanon providing basic needs, healthcare, and schooling to Syrian refugees in the country.


Bea Arthur’s tits: a treatise on censorship


Bea Arthur had glorious tits*. Rather, Bea Arthur as imagined by John Currin—who painted this version of the actress in 1991—had exquisite tits. Educational, really. And yet Facebook, unsurprisingly, disagrees:

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Yesterday, after spending several hours researching a talk I’m giving on Friday, I decided that I’d test Facebook’s standards out for myself. After studying and writing about them for years (and years, and years), I’m pretty familiar with how things work, but I hadn’t posted any nudes since the Jackie Chamoun debacle, so I figured it was time. And what better image to test things with than that of Bea Arthur’s glorious tits?

I posted the image first with the caption above, explicitly asking friends to report it. At least six friends followed my instructions, and within 33 minutes (precisely), the image was taken down. I was logged out of Facebook automatically and my profile temporarily taken down (as Dalia informed me by email). When I logged back in, I was taken to the URL facebook.com/checkpoint and forced to agree not to post similar content in the future. I was then presented my own recent photos to review for inappropriate content. After clicking through, I had full access to my profile again. I was also given the opportunity to provide feedback, which I did, telling Facebook they weren’t adhering to their own policy. You see, Facebook’s community standards bar most nudity and female toplessness, but make exceptions for art.

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After quoting the company’s own rules back to them, I decided to post Bea’s tits a second time. This time, I didn’t ask friends to report the image, though I knew a couple of them couldn’t resist a good troll. Fortunately, the image was once again reported. But this time, this is the message I received from Facebook:

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Welp. As James pointed out, consistency is impossible in censorship, and I don’t disagree. I’m not so concerned about the consistency, though. Rather, what concerns me is Facebook’s continuous campaign against the beautiful, natural, female body. Between Facebook and Instagram (which the former owns), we’ve seen menstruation, transgender women, countless pairs of titties, and a 149-year-old vagina all censored, stigmatized. Female nipples are banned, male nipples are ok (a near-direct quote from a Facebook training manual for content moderators). What are we teaching, here?

Facebook claims that banning nudity is important for keeping its “global community”** happy. Specifically, the company states:

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There’s a lot wrong here, including the assumption that people who don’t like looking at breasts want censorship. I fully accept that some people are offended by nudity. I don’t understand it, mind you, but I accept it. What I don’t accept is the paternalistic idea that a bunch of white male Silicon Valley bros should decide for the world what’s good for them. And nevermind that only a handful of governments around the world would actually bother to block something like Bea Arthur’s tits. As my colleague Cory Doctorow so aptly pointed out in an email (quoted in this post, here I paraphrase), these companies are essentially building their rules and regulations to appease the House of Saud. That might sound dramatic, but consider that—apart from China and Iran, which censor more than anyone—Saudi Arabia and its close GCC allies are the only countries I know of to censor images of breasts explicitly. I hope to have some good data soon to back that up.

But creepier than that is the why. Unlike Twitter, which faced all sorts of criticism for selling 3.75% of its shares to Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal but doesn’t ban boobs, Facebook has no discernible economic reason for doing this. Which means that the company really believes that it’s doing the right thing. Let that sink in: A bunch of conservative, paternalistic white dudes think that boobs are harmful and therefore have banned them.

I’ll be talking about Bea Arthur’s tits, that aforementioned 149-year-old vagina and more this Friday. If you’re in Berlin, come by.



*Some folks find this word crass. I fucking love it. And as the proud owner of a voluptuous pair of titties, I will continue using it.

**Mark Zuckerberg’s incessant use of the word “community” to refer to his product-customers is so gross, it warrants a separate post.

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