Ideas

What Is Freedom? Surviving The Facebook Outage In Bulgaria

Photo of author Carl Karlsson working in a shared office in Sofia, Bulgaria

Author Carl Karlsson working in a shared office in Sofia, Bulgaria

Personal file
Carl Karlsson

-OpEd-

"Do you get how big this is? It's been two hours now…"

No, I didn't get how big it was. Mostly, I was amazed that Daniel was both speaking in full sentences and making eye contact — I'd only ever seen him muted and bent over his computer screen scrolling through graphs and columns. But now he was reclining and spinning his office chair in the freshly remodeled common area of the co-working space I've called "the office" for the past four weeks.

Facebook vs. freedom

"If Facebook stays down, some of my clients will lose six-figures," he said, looking half-amused, half-panicked. Daniel (who turned out to be quite the talker during social media outages) had quit his day job after getting "almost rich" on bitcoin, and now divided his time between crypto trading, PR consultancy and freelance "growth hacking."

His isn't a particularly original story here at the shared office in central Sofia, Bulgaria. Many I've spoken to since arriving in September do something IT-Crypto related — mostly expats, some having moved here for the corporate tax flat rate of 10%, others just passing through before the next nomadic destination.

I realized how hooked the world is on our battery of alerts and likes.

No matter what their gig or angle or life hack, every single person gives the same reason as Daniel for moving their lives online and on the road: more freedom. "Have you checked bitcoin? … Way up. Decentralization, man," Daniel went on. More people had dropped into the common room, unable to either work or waste time in the usual ways on Facebook or Instagram or WhatsApp. Suddenly, there was far more social interaction in this kitsch four-story building than I'd seen ever since arriving.

Photo of a backlit hand holding a smart phone with Facebook, WhatApp and Instagram icons on the screen.

Facebook-linked apps suffered a 6-hour outage

Andre M. Chang/ZUMA

Back to Zuckerberg's normal

A full-fledged debate was on about what this all meant: "If they built Facebook on a blockchain, this wouldn't have happened," an Estonian web designer from the top floor weighed in. "How safe is our data if they can't even keep their platforms up and running?"

The discussion went on as the evening arrived. Sitting there, listening to the tech-heavy analysis I couldn't fully understand — and philosophical riffs nobody could understand — I realized how hooked the world is on our battery of alerts and likes and digital noise. My only (unshared) thought was: This couldn't possibly be "more freedom."

Any person governed by forces beyond comprehension can never be considered truly free.

After all, who really did understand any of this? Who actually knows where blockchain will take us? Who has read Facebook's privacy policy?

We will be assured that some simple glitch took down the Facebook empire, and now all is back online — and Mark Zuckerberg will even recoup his lost billions. But the forces behind our economy are more complex than ever, and any person governed by forces beyond comprehension can never be considered truly free. And we digital nomads of Bulgaria jonesing for Facebook and WhatsApp to come back online are the final, self-deluded proof.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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