Social Networking Gone Realllly Bad
October 3, 2014 11:21 AM   Subscribe

Jennifer Williams shares the story of how she became a Twitter star amongst ISIS sympathizers.
posted by Ipsifendus (35 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
...and she's a counter-terrorism researcher.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:30 AM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


The lesson about her ironically-intended #muslimapologies Tweet is that Twitter invites the opposite of TL;DR: "Too Laconic; Didn't Register."
posted by Doktor Zed at 11:34 AM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


This is a hell of a story.

Also, this is where I pop in to say, I read the Qur'an for a college class (in chronological order) and found a lot to like. Certainly no less than in the Bible. Sure, in addition to the things I consider good messages and beautiful poetry, it features some violence and shitty attitudes about women- but, again, no more than the Bible. And every Christian I know (granted, I only associate with nice ones at this point in my life) openly disregards the shitty stuff and keeps the good stuff, yet no one wants to believe that Muslims can and do do the same. Which is to say, although I'm an atheist personally, I get how Jennifer Williams came to convert.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:45 AM on October 3, 2014 [13 favorites]


The word sympathizers does not appear in her article, but the word supporters does. You should change your description to reflect the actual wording in the article.
posted by Mblue at 12:05 PM on October 3, 2014


And every Christian I know (granted, I only associate with nice ones at this point in my life) openly disregards the shitty stuff and keeps the good stuff, yet no one wants to believe that Muslims can and do do the same.

One of the top ten best conversations I've ever had in my life was with the community outreach guy at my neighborhood mosque three days after 9/11. I'd stopped by to leave a note on their door to the effect that "listen, some of your neighbors get it that Islam Is Not Like That, and we're thinking of you", and he came out and saw I was doing that and we got to talking. He was awesome - he was a Baptist preacher's son who converted, and he told me basically the whole story of his life and his conversion and we debated interfaith theology and relations and such. He made no bones about the fact that he was giving me a sales pitch, and I made no bones about the fact that I wasn't buying but would listen anyway so I could dig his scene better - but we both ended up getting a tremendous kick out of the conversation and each other, and cracked each other up a bunch of times.

After the fact I realized that probably the bulk of what was fueling his talk that day was the fact that he'd been desperate, ever since the attacks, to grab someone and say "listen, those people are not what Islam is about," and I was just the first person who dared to stop and listen.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:10 PM on October 3, 2014 [38 favorites]


Great article. Followed.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:10 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


2014: the most cyberpunk year in recent memory?
posted by Apocryphon at 12:15 PM on October 3, 2014 [5 favorites]


2014: the most cyberpunk year in recent memory?

Does anyone have a good plan for escape from this William Gibson universe we've landed in? Other than, like, just taking enough drugs to move to the Philip K. Dick universe next door?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:19 PM on October 3, 2014 [30 favorites]


Does anyone have a good plan for escape from this William Gibson universe we've landed in?

Why didn't we get the one with the public matter compilers.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:23 PM on October 3, 2014 [5 favorites]


Why didn't we get the one with the public matter compilers.

Well, 3D printing is on the way, and in true cyberpunk fashion it's become one of the poster children toys for libertarians and anarchist pirate hackers.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:27 PM on October 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


[Bunch of stuff deleted. Sweeping anti-religion statements are unhelpful at best. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 12:33 PM on October 3, 2014 [14 favorites]


Twitter is still the only social network capable of massively bizarre phenomena occurring on a global ideological scale every single day, god bless it.
posted by naju at 12:34 PM on October 3, 2014 [8 favorites]


"Call me naïve, but it didn’t occur to me at the time that this tweet might be construed by the pro-ISIS folks on Twitter who were already excited by my conversion tweet as an endorsement of ISIS."
I know it's unseemly to pile on, but, well, yes, that probably wasn't the most considered of actions. Anyway, "big in Saudi Arabia" is at least an original spin on "big in Japan."

2014: the most cyberpunk year in recent memory?

Until next year, I guess. There's a wonderful phrase in one of Henry James' letters, "the hungry futurity of youth ..." that I roll around on my tongue a lot these days, especially when I read things like
" ... of the thousands of people who were retweeting and following me, many of them had the black flag of ISIS as their Twitter profile photos. Others had pictures of themselves holding swords, standing in front of the black ISIS flag. Uh-oh."
posted by octobersurprise at 12:36 PM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Well, 3D printing is on the way, and in true cyberpunk fashion it's become one of the poster children toys for libertarians and anarchist pirate hackers.

yeah but i wanted the ones where kids from poor families could download nutritious meals
posted by poffin boffin at 12:36 PM on October 3, 2014 [9 favorites]


I also don’t appreciate that having attracted the Twitter following that I have, I may never be able to get on an airplane again.
Oops. Though in the case of Tarek Mehanna, who was jailed for almost 20 years for translating Al Qaeda videos, one of the witnesses—an academic—explained that he does the exact same thing in the course of his work which Mehanna was indicted for, so maybe just working as a terrorism researcher puts Ms. Williams on a potential-enemy-of-the-state list anyways.
posted by XMLicious at 12:42 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


No, I did not blur my face out to maintain my anonymity. The person who tweeted that did it. You know you’re dealing with some serious Islamic hardliners when they blur out your face to protect Islamic modesty. It’s also interesting that they chose to make it blurry rather than to black it out entirely—I suppose they did that so you could still tell that I was a blonde, white American girl. The holy grail of Muslim converts—so to speak.

It must be distressing for her to realize that they're not actually interested in her as a believer but what she represents. Religion can swing between being really personal and individual to being highly depersonalized and "for the greater good". It seems that here--whatever this woman's feeling about her religion--some of her fellow believers just want to win an argument. There's an almost mystical belief that the Koran is unearthly and so obviously true that you only have to read it and you'll become a Muslim--even if you're a white, tattooed woman from the US who at first thought all Muslims were terrorists.

For what it's worth, I read the Koran and found it bizarrely disjointed and haranguing. There's little narrative, a lot of threats, and a fair bit of "huh?". I encourage everybody to read it because doing so will deglamorize something that is so often in the news. Islam is just another religion, nothing more special than the thousands of others that humans have invented throughout time.
posted by Thing at 12:43 PM on October 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


I detest the twisted interpretations of Islam espoused by the likes of Al Qaeda and ISIS just as much today as I did before I converted—in fact, probably more so, since now I see it not only as a sick bastardization of a beautiful religion, but a sick bastardization of my beautiful religion.
The twisted thing about this is that this attitude- the idea that you know better than anyone else what the religion is about, is held just as strongly by Al-Qaeda and ISIS members as well.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 12:43 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


yeah but i wanted the ones where kids from poor families could download nutritious meals

Yes! I'm still hoping for a Diamond Age future - at least Nell stood a chance in that universe. They were even able to download weapons to use so they could get away from their abusive parents!

well, yes, that probably wasn't the most considered of actions.

Fair enough, but she is a counterterrorism researcher - it sounded like she initially regarded it as sort of an inside baseball tweet to her colleagues, which seems perfectly appropriate if she wasn't painfully aware of her ISIS popularity yet.
posted by dialetheia at 12:43 PM on October 3, 2014


Well, since my original comment (though not antireligious but kinda the opposite) got caught up in the sweep, I'll put this here: Also related from previous MeFi discussions, "corrupt personalization," when algorithmic content presentation misleads people about who you are.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:44 PM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Naju, Twitter does give and give, doesn't it. From her timeline, I found this link - ISIS supporters changing flags and guns to kittens.
posted by scolbath at 12:45 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


where kids from poor families could download nutritious meals


total Diamond Age de-rail:
...and then die deaths reminiscent of silicosis after inhaling too many dead nanites, from the wars waged by the rich using the air the poor breathed as a medium.

Also, I seem to remember that even if you had your choice of the three nearby societies, as a woman it was a choice of in exactly which manner you wished to be oppressed and/or killed.

So, um. Still love that book.
Carry on...
posted by tigrrrlily at 12:51 PM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


For what it's worth, I read the Koran and found it bizarrely disjointed

For some weird reason, the verses of the Qur'an are not in chronological order- which is to say, they're in neither the order in which they were written, not the order of the different time periods they depict. Instead, they are in order of length from longest to shortest. If you read it straight through, then yeah, it probably didn't make sense. (This was explained to me as being basically irrelevant to the vast majority of Muslims, who, at least until recently, would have memorized rather than read the stories, and would know them from childhood as well as most Americans know the Bible stories. So the order is as functional yet meaningless as the order of a dictionary.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:53 PM on October 3, 2014 [8 favorites]


well yeah but with a 50% chance of terrible death and a 50% chance of being the ruler of an all-girls military dictatorship i think it would be a good gamble.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:54 PM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


As a former Christian, I struggle with how much to move on and live and let live; and how much to decry the bigoted hatred peddled by various Christian institutions. Other people have a right to their choices, but many of the popular choices seem to be based on denying fundamental rights to large segments of the population. That's not okay with me, and I don't understand how it can be okay with Catholics, or most evangelicals, and even many mainline Protestants.
posted by rikschell at 1:01 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


/utter diamond age derail

I love this book but isn't Nell's iPad edtech bootstrapping kind of a libertarian fantasy? I know it contributed to mine in some ways back when I read it and I was a dweeby libertarian dweeb.

Anywayz, I loved the Koran as well. It's very very beautiful in parts, and has great wisdom throughout. And some bad stuff too. It's the Snow Crash of religious books in my opinion.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:10 PM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Some would say it's not the Quran exactly but the Thomas Cleary translation is actually a good read and I think gets to the heart of why the poetry of the book has gotten it so many followers through the years.
posted by cell divide at 1:13 PM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


For some weird reason, the verses of the Qur'an are not in chronological order. Instead they are in order of length. If you read it straight through, then yeah, it probably didn't make sense. (This was explained to me as being basically irrelevant to the vast majority of Muslims, who, at least until recently, would have memorized rather than read the stories, and would know them from childhood as well as most Americans know the Bible stories.)

Yeah, I read about the Koran before reading it, and basically the lesson was, "read it as you will". So I did. But even within suras the text is disjointed and skips here and there. I understand that the verses themselves may come from different times even within a chapter. I found it utterly different to reading, say, a gospel, which is the main religious work I am used to and which has a clear narrative with parables and teachings.

A few of the chapters, however, are clearly quite poetic and must belong to the same tradition of pre-Islamic poetry, whatever their topic.
posted by Thing at 1:23 PM on October 3, 2014


The word sympathizers does not appear in her article, but the word supporters does. You should change your description to reflect the actual wording in the article.

It is not possible to edit a post after the fact in this fashion. Nor is there any obligation to construct metafilter posts using only the exact words that appear on the pages that the post is about. I'm not seeing a gigantic difference of implication between the words you're setting up as alternatives here, but certainly there's no objection on my end if you want to mentally swap one word out for the other.

That aside:

It must be distressing for her to realize that they're not actually interested in her as a believer but what she represents.

Yeah, that was the part of the story that struct me as most interesting: the blurring of the face without actually just blocking it out altogether. It's a tiny detail that really heightens the vividness of her narrative.
posted by Ipsifendus at 1:23 PM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


So, where should someone start reading the Koran and what route should they follow through it?

(This is like the where to start reading Diskworld question all over again)
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:30 PM on October 3, 2014


So, where should someone start reading the Koran and what route should they follow through it?

Start here. It's a really interesting and complicated topic.

Also, I'd definitely look for an annotated version. I had the benefit of reading it in a class with an informed professor.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:34 PM on October 3, 2014


The lesson about her ironically-intended #muslimapologies Tweet is that Twitter invites the opposite of TL;DR: "Too Laconic; Didn't Register."

This reminds me of the sarcastic #GamerGate tweet I made a while back that was retweeted, seemingly approvingly, by five or six pro-#GamerGate guys. People read what they want to read, I guess.
posted by brundlefly at 9:20 PM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


For some weird reason, the verses of the Qur'an are not in chronological order- which is to say, they're in neither the order in which they were written, not the order of the different time periods they depict. Instead, they are in order of length from longest to shortest.

lighthearted tangent: a fact that is much appreciated by child!me when i had to go through my regular quranic recitation classes. XD

to add to showbiz_liz's recommendation, currently i'm sloooowly going through this site, which has line-by-line translations from most known translations.
posted by cendawanita at 4:41 AM on October 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


following up on possible recommendations for translations, here's a review to Abdul Haleem's translation that came out in 2004, which includes an introduction that goes into the ordering of the Quran.
posted by cendawanita at 5:04 AM on October 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


I once went looking for food in a skip and came across about a hundred neon pink Turkish/English Qurans. The one I saved has been a great resource for thinking about these topics. It takes a while to work out how to read it.
posted by liliillliil at 8:02 AM on October 4, 2014




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