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On Twitter, a Case of Mistaken Identity Hurls an Israeli Reporter Into American Political Controversy

It’s Levin, not Lavin…

Liel Leibovitz
July 09, 2018

Talia Lavin is a former fact-checker for the New Yorker, whoresigned from her job after she falsely accused an ICE agent of having a Nazi tattoo (it was, instead, the symbol for the platoon in which he served in Afghanistan.)

Talia Levin, with a similar sounding last name, is an Israeli journalist. She’s never been to New York, but she’s planning a trip very soon and was excited to see the city’s wonders for herself. That is, before she woke up one morning to find that a bunch of Americans she’d never met were saying very mean things about her on Twitter.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” asked one stranger, writing in all caps. He was one of the more polite ones. Soon, media outlets started approaching Levin via the social network as well, asking her to come on the air and defend herself.

Kafka’s Joseph K. came to mind, Levin wrote in a recent account of her ordeal, and she set out to learn what it was that she was being accused of doing. When she learned about the other Talia Lavin, one letter and a continent away, she laughed it all off. A well-known writer and reporter in Israel, she was accustomed to random strangers accosting her on the social network.

But Twitter is a harsh mistress. “What amused me in the morning, turned to an emotional burden by noon, and, as evening fell, to real fear,” she wrote. “I admit that I couldn’t even properly translate most of the witty curse words from English, and at some point I just stopped responding to messages. But I read every word, if only to take advantage of the golden opportunity I now had to compare the styles of Israeli and American internet trolls.”

Eventually, Levin’s protestations found an audience. “I was surprised,” she wrote, “by how many people wrote me to say they were sorry. Of course, I forgave them.”

And while so many of us stateside spend much time fretting about how social media have destroyed every shred of decency, Levin came away with a decidedly more cheerful take: Instead of focusing on the awfulness of the trolls who attacked her, she reveled at the decency of those commenters who wrote to apologize. This civility struck her as a particularly American trait. “The Americans,” she wrote, “still have a tiny sliver of good manners. Not all hope is yet lost for humanity.” Amen to that, sister.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.