Housekeeping and transitions

So, I just announced the big news. I’m transitioning out of a formal staff relationship with Integrity Institute in favor of chilling and relaxing as a member.

And, with that, I’ve updated my now page and my then page and my projects page to be actually up-to-date!

Plus I have a ton of stuff I haven’t posted about yet. Did you know I wrote the introduction to a book!? More on that soon.

So, just for recordkeeping, here are some updates.

My big announcement:

Dear friends, members, and colleagues,

I’m writing with some important personal news. After founding and running Integrity Institute since the depths of the pandemic, I’m moving on to both pursue important projects, and also take a deep breath and relax after the nonstop grind of startup life. I’ve achieved the goal every founder should have: this organization can continue to thrive if I choose to step away. I’m excited and even eager to do so, but as you can imagine, this is bittersweet.

Over three years ago, I started calling up people I trusted to pitch them a crazy idea: we should make a think tank powered by integrity workers. Amazingly enough, they liked the idea and wanted to make it with me. Starting with a small team of about a dozen committed volunteers, we’ve attracted new members, funding, attention, and impact. We’ve secured access to, and influence with, people writing public policy around the world, people doing advocacy work, people making decisions in platform companies, academics, and more. We’ve been wildly successful.

Integrity Institute members have helped shape multiple pieces of EU policy, briefed tons of policymakers in legislative, judicial, executive, and independent agency roles, and are in deep conversation with policymakers and advocates around the world. Companies like Pinterest are changing not just their policies, but their design decisions thanks in part to us. Since we’ve started, we’ve seen an explosion of output, visibility, coordination, and confidence from integrity workers. We’ve seen policymakers become much more educated about how it all works. We’ve built a key institution in the space. And we’ve done it together: members, staff, fellows, founding fellows, partners, donors, community leaders. This has been a true team effort.

Throughout this, we’ve also grown. More members, more staff, and more ability to fully become what we set out to be at the beginning. Among them: be a champion for integrity workers, protect people around the world, build a stage for members to stand on, and be the sort of place that I dearly wished existed for me back in the day.

I’m proud that we’ve held consistently to a strategic identity — we’re not advocates; we are scientists. We’re not partisans for anything other than our members, our oath, and our shared diagnosis of how to fix the internet.

It’s been three years of nonstop work, and it’s time for me to go in my own direction. Right now, the most important thing I feel personally called to do is help support US democracy and elections in a way that must be outside Integrity Institute’s methods and positioning.

So! It’s time for me to sit back and enjoy this remarkable community we’ve built – as a member. I’ll also be catching up on my writing, enjoying the ability to meet my neighbors and friends in person, exploring advances in technology I’ve missed these last few years (turns out AI is a thing now!), and being more present offscreen. Plus, of course, meaningfully participating in the US 2024 election cycle.

It’s been fun, and it’s been an honor. I’ll still be around on the Slack, both enjoying the remarkable benefits of II membership and cheering on the staff as they work toward our shared mission.

Please don’t be a stranger. My email is And you can find me on my website ( and nascent substack (growth and what comes next), as well as all the sundry social media sites we seem to be on as a matter of course. (My most-used remains Facebook, with Bluesky a clear runner-up). I’d love to stay in touch, and wherever possible be of service to you.

Yours, and forever a champion of our shared integrity Hippocratic oath,

Sahar Massachi

Executive Director and Founder

My new now page

I’ve just announced that I’m leaving Integrity Institute. It’s a big deal! I feel great. To quote myself: “I’ve achieved the goal every founder should have: this organization can continue to thrive if I choose to step away”. So I did! :–)

I’m walking more. Exploring the Brooklyn Botanic garden. Making friends.

Soon I’m going to fly to SF, then Philly, to see old friends.

I’m getting more in touch with being a jew in america and what that is like. Wearing my kippah more often.

The election is coming. I am going to work on it in a way that feels urgent and important and in ways that only I can help. But also, I’m torn because I want to relax. Can I learn to set boundaries and work a job in a “normal” way? By which I mean — letting it be important, but not overwhelm all my other commitments? Being able to sign off at 5pm each day?

Sarah and I are preparing a trip to a bed and breakfast (and shakespeare) we loved last year, and seeing if friends might want to last-minute go with us.

I’m looking for a new DnD group to play with.

I’m playing kickball. Still rock climbing. I miss biking.


I invite you to join me in these:

First, I’m matchmaking my friends to jobs, housing, and each other. You can sign up for the newsletter here. Please do.

Second, I’m new to Brooklyn / Crown Heights and looking for community. Friendships, but also groups of friends that hang out together.

Third, I’m thinking in public rather more. I’m writing more, and being interviewed by podcasts. Ask me to be a guest on your podcast or publication.

Every day, I try to walk in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, go bouldering, or hang in Prospect Park.

I’m also delighted to enjoy these:

I miss tabletop roleplaying games. In the past, I ran a Dungeons and Dragons campaign with a few friends, focusing (to the extent that can mean anything in this context) on factions, revolution, and betrayal. Now, I’m looking for a new group.

Sarah and I rock climb all the time. Our favorite place is the Cliffs at Gowanus. Wanna join us?

I have a backlog of dozens of books that I’ve bought, excitedly, but have yet to read. It’s time.


Oh hey I got married

So, in case you missed it, I got married in late July / early August of 2023. I haven’t actually written too much about it publicly, just the bit I wrote here in Yenta.

I haven’t written about the honeymoon at all. It was delightful. Here are the topline ideas about the honeymoon:

  • We chose something easy and quiet to balance out the social and crowded week-long wedding festivity.
  • We stayed exclusively in old-fashioned bed-and-breakfasts
  • First, we went to the village of Gananoque, in Canada. It’s right by the Thousand Islands.
  • This has symbolic resonance because we had both been there on a road trip the day before we kissed for the first time.
  • We went kayaking, walked around town, and played a ton of Frosthaven.
  • Then we went to Stratford. It’s the home of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, and the subject of a loving parody in Slings and Arrows. Years before we were dating, Sarah suggested I watch the show (it’s fantastic, an office comedy about people who work in a theatre, with the drama to match). It was my secret. “I have a crush on Sarah, let me remind myself by watching this niche TV show only she seems to knows about”.
  • The Shakespeare at Stratford was amazing. We even realized, by accident, that Paul Gross, the frontman of Slings and Arrows, was performing as King Lear. Wow!
  • Plus our BnB hostess was fantastic.
  • Plus lots of Frosthaven.
  • And lots of listening to Shakespeare as we drove a car for hours at a time to get to all these places.
  • It was delightful. Now you know!

And now, I wrote a longish retrospective that was framed as a set of tips for wedding planning. My wedding (and how to plan a great one).

It’s all on my long-dormant substack.

There’s a lot there, but here are just the topline tips:

  1. Food trucks! They solve so many problems.
  2. Understand this: the point of a wedding is to bring your people together and get them to understand why you should be married.
  3. Your wedding can be a week-long party where you show off your home.
  4. Community housing can be a key part of the experience.
  5. We got married outside, at a nature center
  6. We invested in great music
  7. Swords! (Invest in people getting to know each other, part 1)
  8. Secret Missions! (investing in introductions, part 2)
  9. The point of getting married is to help the world understand the relationship that you already have.
  10. Emailed (or texted) invitations are fine.
  11. Have a simple, relaxing, honeymoon
  12. Dress amazing, not formal
  13. Wedding rings don’t need to be stressful boring expensive and useless
  14. Redirect parent energy
  15. Get married in the early afternoon
  16. Replace vows with stories
  17. Children are great! Extra friends are great!
  18. Paradoxically: treat +1s with care
  19. Speeches are actually good — but space them out
  20. Have a special moment with everyone with this one weird trick.
  21. Don’t sweat the details. Many times, we told people, “if someone asks us what color napkins we want, then we are doing something horribly wrong”.

(Bonus: listen to tradition. Have your wedding on a Sunday.)

And what we learned:

  1. Plan earlier, and there’s no need to get overwhelmed.
  2. Use a CRM. Avoid WithJoy.
  3. You need a day-of captain
  4. You need an escape route
  5. Remember to schedule time and energy for thank you notes

Read the whole thing here (with photos!)

Lastly — I’ve been thinking about it, and I’d like to go to more weddings. Please invite me! I am a great guest. Fun dancer, gregarious, make friends with your friends. You won’t regret it.


Sarah mixtapes: November 2021 to April 2022

Every month, I make Sarah a playlist of songs she might particularly want to hear. Sadly, I’m very behind! Here are the latest five.

November 2021: Just a pile of good songs

  • Friday I’m in Love by The Cure
  • Being No One, Going Nowhere by STRFKR
  • Jesus, Etc. by Bill Fay
  • Can’t Stand The Midwest by Dow Jones And The Industrials
  • Hunnybee by Unknown Mortal Orchestra
  • Game Shows Touch Our Lives by The Mountain Goats
  • Velha Infância – 2004 Digital Remaster by Tribalistas
  • Believe by K’s Choice
  • Peacock Tail by Boards of Canada
  • Grass by Animal Collective
  • Shark Smile – Edit by Big Thief
  • Underwater Dream by Eluvium
  • PPP by Beach House
  • Wake Up by Äl Jawala
  • Eili, Eili by Nathan Salsburg
  • In Between Days – 2006 Remaster by The Cure
  • Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales by Car Seat Headrest

December 2021 — These are good songs

  • No One’s Gonna Love You by Band of Horses
  • First Breath After Coma by Explosions In The Sky
  • 7/4 (Shoreline) by Broken Social Scene
  • Land Locked Blues by Bright Eyes
  • Autumn Town Leaves by Iron & Wine
  • Suffer For Fashion by of Montreal
  • Taro by alt-J
  • Rave On by Buddy Holly; The Crickets
  • Dance Yrself Clean by LCD Soundsystem
  • Do You Realize?? by The Flaming Lips
  • King Without a Crown by Matisyahu
  • No Children by The Mountain Goats
  • The Vowels, Pt. 2 by WHY?
  • Kids Will Be Skeletons by Mogwai
  • The District Sleeps Alone by The Postal ServiceTonight – Remastered
  • West Coast by Coconut Records
  • The Funeral by Band of Horses

January 2022: Some delightful songs

  • Time Escaping by Big Thief
  • Undigested Parts by Elf Power
  • Summit by Ryan Roth; Halina Heron
  • Annan Kitaran Laulaa Vaan by Dave Lindholm
  • Månnge’ Hao by Micah Manaitai
  • Emmylou by First Aid Kit
  • Bleecker Street by Simon & Garfunkel
  • Gyöngyhajú lány by Omega
  • Southwood Plantation Road by The Mountain Goats
  • Psycho Killer – 2005 Remaster by Talking Heads
  • The Only Moment We Were Alone by Explosions In The Sky
  • Amreik by Eluvium
  • The Start Of Something by Voxtrot
  • Change by Big Thief

February 2022: Basic / normie songs that I still like

  • Lotus Flower by Radiohead
  • Fat Lip by Sum 41
  • Le Freak by CHIC
  • The Lovecats by The Cure
  • Road to Nowhere by Talking Heads
  • Cemetry Gates – 2011 Remaster by The Smiths
  • Old Soul Song (for the New World Order) – by Bright EyesCompanion Version
  • When I B On Tha Mic by Rakim
  • The Adults Are Talking by The Strokes
  • Hey Joe by Jimi Hendrix
  • Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd
  • Supermassive Black Hole by Muse
  • Burn the Witch by Radiohead

March 2022: Indie standards of the late 00s

  • Rebellion (Lies) by Arcade Fire
  • Oxford Comma by Vampire Weekend
  • Crystalised by The xx
  • Morning Mr Magpie by Radiohead
  • Such Great Heights – Remastered by The Postal Service
  • I Feel It All by Feist
  • Maps by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  • Heartbeats by The Knife
  • Back in Your Head by Tegan and Sara
  • Ambling Alp by Yeasayer
  • Rill Rill by Sleigh Bells
  • Lights Out by Santigold
  • Amsterdam by Peter Bjorn and John
  • Animal by Miike Snow
  • Sea of Love by Cat Power
  • White Winter Hymnal by Fleet Foxes
  • Ready, Able by Grizzly Bear
  • Gobbledigook by Sigur Rós
  • Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second by STRFKR
  • Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games by of Montreal
  • Mouthful of Diamonds by Phantogram
  • I Was A Lover by TV On The Radio
  • Skinny Love by Bon Iver
  • Us by Regina Spektor
  • Boy From School by Hot Chip
  • Electric Feel by MGMT
  • Celebration Guns by Stars
  • (Antichrist Television Blues) by Arcade Fire

April 2022: eclectic songs that are good but don’t really fit a theme

  • Training Montage by The Mountain Goats
  • Going To A Town by Rufus Wainwright
  • It’s All Right – Single Version by The Impressions
  • Wagner at the Opera by Chumbawamba
  • The Fear by Röyksopp
  • In Our Bedroom After The War by Stars
  • 24-25 by Kings of Convenience
  • Aaftaab by Jawid Sharif; Madina Aknazarova
  • Six Days At The Bottom Of The Ocean by Explosions In The Sky
  • Untitled #3 – 2022 Remaster by Sigur Rós
  • Fatalist Palmistry by WHY?
  • First Few Desperate Hours by The Mountain Goats

(I try to match the photos and months. For instance, April 2022 was the month we got engaged, and the album cover is from that night!)

As always, thanks to to for making exporting playlists to text easily.


Cited in Wired: T&S as a service

Vittoria Elliott at Wired has a new article. I’m in it!

It’s called: Big Tech Ditched Trust and Safety. Now Startups Are Selling It Back As a Service

Here’s the link:

I’m quoted as saying:

Sahar Massachi, a former member of Meta’s civic integrity team and cofounder and executive director of the Integrity Institute think tank, worries that by outsourcing key functions, platforms may be undermining their ability to improve products. Trust and safety issues can sometimes be more about product design than active moderation—should a user be able to reshare content? How much weight should different metrics be given within a recommendation algorithm? “The vendors could be great, but they won’t be able to have insight into that because of the ways that companies work,” Massachi says.

If you think of the work as “take in a stream of content, tag it, and then emit that altered stream of content” — then you’ve already lost. That’s a component of the work, maybe, but not the core of it. The core of it includes looking at behavior over time. It involves looking at data from a variety of different sources in the product. It involves changing the product, the metrics workers are held to, and company decisions. T&S vendors do good work, and I’m glad that many of them are run by (or hired) my friends. But they’re at best a large component of a bigger strategy — hiring them cannot be the strategy, if you want to do things right.

And to put it maybe a bit more succinctly:

The most important levers to doing integrity work right — design, ranking changes, setting the right metrics — are explicitly out of the control of vendors. If they handle whack a mole while product teams do the rest — that’s great. If they’re the only line of defense? Bad news.


A left wing worth fighting for (on Israel)

So previously, I touched on conflict about Israel in the left. And specifically how it was affecting me. I miss being scrappy, knowing I’m on the right side, and moving quickly and decisively. It’s quite different than managing a nonprofit organization.

So, out of that, a few of us started thinking about what a concrete path forward would be. Charles, Danny, and I already have had connections with a great organization, Standing Together. But we also wanted to broaden beyond just one organization.

Charles, especially, took the lead. (I was hanging with Sarah’s family in New Jersey, then at a beautiful wedding of a good friend).

We made an emergency event for people on the left in the US and west to actually hear from people on the left in Israel. Jews and Arabs, in partnership.

I think the israeli left (both jews and arabs/palestinians) is the most politically advanced group on this issue in the world. They have good values, and also are connected to actual events and people — this isn’t theoretical for them, and not a place to actually talk about something else via metaphor. (The non-israeli palestinian left seems to have been murdered by hamas). Some of what they say, I just flat out disagree with. But also — all of them clearly are good people who share my values. Even if they come to different conclusions.

In 48 hours, we went from pulling the trigger to actually doing the event. Zoom can only hold 500 people — exactly 501 people were in the zoom room, and I think hundreds of others registered but couldn’t get in. I’m proud of it.

I helped kickstart it, wrote much of the text of the event invite, and did behind-the-scenes Q&A moderation and synthesization during the event.

Here’s the recording:

Here’s how I talked about it:

I and a few folks have been setting up something that we think is timely, relevant, and frankly an important intervention in the discourse.

In short — the actual israeli left exists! They’re thoughtful, they’re kind, they’re an arab-jewish partnership, and they have a perspective on things that is neither “bombings good” nor “murder is actually social justice”. I’ve been following them for years.

A few of us created an emergency event around them. We don’t have an organizational affiliation. We’re not trying to build a list out of it. Literally, this is 100% about impact and offering an alternative and a path forward

(tweets by me, and also adapted from text of emails I sent)

And here’s some of the text of the google doc invite that I had a hand in:

In the face of multiple tragedies on the ground in Israel and Gaza, it may seem like our space for hope is narrowing. It may seem like the agenda for a truly international, values-aligned left is calcifying into something strange. We have good news. There is hope. 

For the last few years, Israel/Palestine has been witnessing a new movement of Palestinian-Jewish partnership truly anchored in our shared values. Some amazing work is happening, in particular bi-national teams showing presence in mixed cities and neighborhoods, to prevent the eruption of right wing violence and visibly assert the full equality and citizenship of Palestinian Israelis, who are under threat. This joint left is also demanding that the Netanyahu government prioritize freeing the hostages, instead of the savage brutality inflicted on Gazans, mostly innocent civilians.

On this call we will hear from people on the frontlines of organizing. What they have to say is as important as how they say it. Join us; lighting a candle is better than cursing the darkness.

Many friends of mine went. I was, honestly, too busy running the event to really synthesize it. But the friends said great things. Like:

I really appreciated Sally’s point at the end that I’m heavily paraphrasing here: “a lot of the academic movements abroad for Palestinian liberation are very theoretical. They need to be more connected to reality on the ground, hold the humanity of Jewish Israelis, work together to build political capital.”

and Yael’s also heavily paraphrasing: “we are intertwined, from the river to the sea. And nobody is going anywhere. Yes this is a settler colony of refugees. We need to stop the killing and bring back the hostages. There is no military solution. We need a political solution.”

I’m not sure I agree with everything the invite even said. Or the speakers. Or their choice emphasis. I’m not sure where I fall, overall: I like what Yair Lapid is saying. But also I like what Ayman Odeh is saying. I like what Bernie is saying. I like what Biden has been saying.

But I do know this: an international left that actually stands up for its values — values I share — would sound a lot more like Sally Abed and Uri Weltmann and Charles Lenchner (and even Yael Berda and Kefah Abukhdeir, who I know less) than the horrific display I saw on October 7th and 8th.

Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.


You’re telling me my funeral is inconvenient for your activism

There’s been some drama on a big listserv I’m on. It’s been hard, because I both value the community there, and I see it as a synedoche of the broader left. I’ve been processing it with a few other people who are similarly outraged.

Micah Sifry has been a particularly public, yet oblique, commenter and synthesizer on this.

First he wrote: What Israel/Palestine ‘Hot Takes’ Have Revealed: From the center, to liberals and the left, blind spots and callous calls. And a deep schism inside the progressive movement.

Then No Place to Stand: How pro-Palestinian, “anti-colonial” progressives are painting themselves into a corner, and damaging the prospects for a left that matters in American politics.

Lastly, he quoted me directly in “Your funeral is inconvenient for my activism”: On the weaponization of “genocide,” polarization on the center-left over Israel-Gaza, and the still necessary work of building Israeli-Palestinian co-existence.

To that last, I want to be clear — I have felt that others have told me that the funeral and grief I’m feeling are inconvenient to their activism. Not the other way around.

Regarding that drama — something good came out of it. More on that in a bit, but here’s a sneak preview.

Brandeis Left Personal

The other Sahars

(This is a sequel, in part, to Some thoughts about today. It’s also the transcription of a facebook post I made that seems to have struck a chord ).

Let’s start with a story about the other Sahar.

Only one person texted me on Saturday day. Another that evening. Maybe 2-4 did on Sunday. More later. As people texted me, they would often ask about my family. I’d say, in mordant humor(?) that “I have a large family, last time I checked”. Or “They’re alive so far”. That’s not true any more.

Last night, my mom called and told me I lost a relative. Not someone too close. Someone that I didn’t know existed. My grandfather’s sister’s granddaughter. She was 20. Her name was also Sahar.

I have a large family, or at least I did last time I checked. There are whatsapp groups. My cousin spent some time posting about a friend they lost track of, a friend who was at the rave, looking for news, asking us to ask around. They stopped looking. Her name was also Sahar.

How am I doing? How am I doing? How am I holding up? How is my family?

The questions pile on and on. I play little games with myself and answer each question differently. Sometimes I emphasize my sorrow. Other times my rage. Other times I joke around. I never have time to ask the question to myself for real.

In one feed, I see notices of death after death. Reshares of funerals, of photos of happy-looking people with heart-breaking captions bemoaning their demise. In another feed, I see people I respect applauding argle-bargle that amounts to self-flagellation and victim-blaming from jews who should know better.

I see so, so much, bad reasoning by analogy. By people who should know better!

So many terrible ideas by bloodthirsty americans.
So many terrible ideas by americans so eager to talk about their 9/11 that they completely miss the details about ours. (For example — Israelis are not rallying around the flag, or at least the prime minister. The government is discredited.) Stop making us the puppets in your trauma or morality play.

Here are more stories.

I’m in the Boston suburbs right now, ready to join a flood of Brandeis alumni for the college’s 75 year anniversary party. Or will it be a flood? People are worried sick. Thousands of (not just, but many, mostly?) jews packed into one of the crown jewels of jewish institutions, on Hamas’ day of rage? Will we be targets? Maybe people won’t show up. Maybe the staff won’t show up. Maybe a gunman will show up.

My people are SCARED right now. Including (especially?) in New York, at Brandeis, in the US.

I was beside myself on Simchat Torah. I couldn’t think, couldn’t hold a conversation. I was drained. But I dragged my body outdoors because on Simchat Torah, the jews celebrate the torah. Even when no one feels like celebrating.

I’ll tell the full story later. I have told it to a few people. It was quite a night. But I’ll tell you this now — one of the most levelheaded people I know, in going over the story, said: “maybe you shouldn’t have gone outdoors for that religious celebration. Maybe you should not have worn your kippa. Maybe they should have done it indoors. Maybe it wasn’t safe”

I see a story about people in Australia chanting “gas the jews” in a big rally. I see photos of smaller, similar chants in the UK.

I see video of the organizer of a rally in NYC cheering on killing jewish “hipsters” and the people applaud. I see tweets angrily defending the rally.

A cousin of mine sleeps with a knife under his pillow. He knows it is useless. It is now his security blanket.

I started wearing a kippa now. I wear it to show myself I’m not afraid, or to master my fear. People at the cafe ask me “how are you today?”. I say “terrible, of course”. They’re surprised and don’t understand.

A cousin of mine spent the day barricading his dad’s apartment.

My cousin’s husbands are called up to the reserves.

I read more headlines. “Sydney government apologizes for pro-Palestine protest that had ‘gas the Jews’ chants”

I see heartwarming stories of israeli arabs opening their homes to refugees from the kibbutzim. I see them giving blood. I have so much hope that they can be more fully accepted by the rest of the nation, and vice versa. If that happens, then the country of Israel can be saved.

I’m on a listserv for people who in lefty nonprofits. On Sunday and Monday, the overwhelming majority of posts are about “palestine solidarity”. No one posts about jewish solidarity.

I find myself sharing stories of universalism (Sesame Street saying no child should live in fear, stories of arab-jewish or muslim-jewish reconciliation), because I like them, and cannot disagree with them. But I also wish I could just simply say “I stand with Israel”. “Biden’s speech was great”. And be particular and stand with my people rather than anodyne. But at the same time, I’m scared to do so. Maybe scared to be seen as bloodthirsty? Scared to lose friends? Scared to offend?

I want to care for all people, but I also want to care for my people. I can point to a lot of shit I don’t like. And I can point to some things I do like. Bu many things I do like, I don’t point to at all. Because I’m scared, and confused, and worried about being wrong. And that makes me sad.

It’s easy to write something eloquent and heartfelt and ultimately flattering to the reader and writer. It’s so damn easy, folks. Take the reader on an emotional journey. Share your frustration and pain and vulnerability. Then guide them towards a conclusion that they like: pablum. They get the thrill of authenticity but the self-satisfaction of superior morality and a sense of having complex ethics.

It’s hard to write something heartfelt, true, and challenging. Especially for me.

In the fall of 2016 I argued a bit with someone I liked respected online. I told them I wasn’t a fan of Hillary Clinton for reasons going back to the late 80s. I realized that they unfriended me. I sent them a message thinking they were joking. I realized I was wrong. I don’t think I’ve ever recovered. It’s so hard for me to disagree with friends now.

In the summer of 2009, I was doing two things: my internship, and watching the “green wave”, abortive uprising in Iran. I was so caught up in it. I saw people tweeting. I was so excited. I thought this was it. And, after a week or two, I realized: if my parent’s hadn’t fled Iran, if they had stayed (and weren’t killed during the revolution) — then I’d be out in the streets in that uprising. I’d say, do, and post recklessly true things that would feel great in the moment. And then I’d be caught by the regime and tortured in Evin prison. I felt it with crystal clarity. I’ve never felt as Iranian before or since. I often think about that other Sahar, the one in the universe where my family couldn’t get away.

It’s hard to for me say recklessly true things online. Things I might want to take back later. Things that aren’t shaped by anxious balancing of all the different audiences they might have. Real or imagined or real-but-in-my-head.

My people are suffering. My people are americans, but my people are also Israel. I will always be on that team.

I might (often! Feels like always!) be critical of the strategy, or even goals that the dominant faction of team israel is going for. I might think they’re disastrous. I might think they’re short sighted. I might think that the current people speaking for our team are cretins, moral midgets, or worryingly proto-fascist. I might think they’re traitors to the cause. But I believe in the cause. I believe in the cause so much that I think we have an obligation to succeed, and do it well.

The cause is both jewish flourishing, and Israeli success. For all its citizens.

What does it all mean? How do I land this plane? How do I end this unexpected essay? What, in the end, has changed for me?

Maybe it’s this: less anguish, more anger. Less crouching, more stating. Less worry that I might be wrong, more confident saying what I suspect to be true. I’d rather say a thing and change my mind later, than never say something at all. I’d rather argue with an acquaintance and maybe lose them, than never have them know me in the first place.

(And, just as I finish writing this, I see that the corrupt incompetent prime minister is giving 1.1 people 24 hours to flee their homes. In case I haven’t made it clear — he doesn’t represent me, he belongs in jail, and nothing I wrote above should be read as supporting anything he, in particular, does or orders.

And yet: why did I feel like I had to write that? Is that basic moral decency? Or that an internalized self-defensive crouch? Do I actually oppose this specific thing? Or is it easy to just oppose anything the government does to score moral points, while being able to sigh in relief if it works?

I know I self-doubt too much. Am I self-doubting so much that I’m self-flagellating for possible internal motivations that I don’t actually have? Am I just a weathervane floating with the wind? Does this entire parenthetical undermine the entire essay? What do I believe? Who am I?)


Some thoughts about today

It’s really weird to see posting on facebook like today is a normal day.

Today has been a sad and terrible day. It’s unclear exactly what’s going on, and I’m sure as time passes we’ll better understand, but here’s my best understanding of what is going on:

  • I woke up today to news of a huge attack by presumably Hamas into Israel. This attack included some killing and capturing of soldiers, but mostly attacking civilians.
  • This wasn’t your “normal” terrorist attack. More like an invasion. Tons of footage of people in pickup trucks in Israeli villages and towns just shooting people. Stories of people being pulled out of cars with their throats cut. Elderly women being gunned down waiting for the bus. Men going from house to house, looking for jews, and killing anyone they found inside.
  • In a surreal twist, seems like a burning man style event was raided, lots of people dead.
  • I can’t be sure but I’m seeing lots of suggestions of mass rape as well.
  • Reports of many people being kidnapped and taken as hostages to the gaza strip. Their family can use “find my iphone” or the android equivalent to see their phones bobbing around in gaza city.

Since my relatives live in Israel, and I was born there and still feel strongly about it, this feels extremely personal to me. There’s a tendency to think that anything that happens far-enough away is kind of .. not real. Or only real enough to be useful as a talking point. This morning, I viscerally did not feel that way. People I know could be killed, raped, kidnapped. I think every one of my friends and relatives in Israel knows someone who died in the last 24 hours, or is mysteriously missing.

I called one cousin. He asked me how I was feeling. I said something like this: There’s a strange thing about the French Revolution. The terror would invariably intensify during times when the french army was doing badly. It would wane during “good times”. This feels counterintuitive on its face. You might imagine that only in relative safety would people feel like they had the space to go after their internal enemies. Nope! I am feeling that same sort of rage: catastrophe happened, I can’t really focus on it, let’s see which of my so-called friends are actually my enemies. Or, at best, deluded. That’s my gut reaction — because at least that’s something I can control, something I can do: taking a look around me and watching others’ reaction.

We talked about the family. Seems like everyone is okay, but also desperately posting on whatsapp (and other places) trying to find out about their missing friends. “No one is missing the historical resonance”, he says.

“What resonance?”
“The jews are hiding in their basement as armed men go door to door looking inside for jews to kill” (Only this time, they take selfies after)

It’s not going to go well.

I’m of course furious. And, like I said before, lots of blame energy flying around. The so-called friends who celebrate killing of children as “decolonial praxis”. The terrible, ruinous, current government of Israel. The people who made the choices that led us here.

I’ve unfollowed a fair number of people on twitter, rather than explode.

I’m seeing photos of terrorists taking selfies of themselves, a corpse, and the house the corpse used to belong to. I’m seeing people frantically looking for their loved ones. I’m seeing blithe blindness or glibness about the above. And I’m seeing lots of people posting away as if today was a normal day.

In a few hours I’m supposed to go to dance around the Torah in perhaps the happiest day of the jewish year. Unclear how that’ll happen.

A friend of mine, a really smart, committed one, asked about the context of what’s going on. I was surprised to hear that he didn’t know about the political developments in Israel the last few months. The gigantic political battles. The foreshadowing.

I think tomorrow is a good time to start talking about it. Spoiler alert: no one in this story is covered in glory.

By the afternoon I perceived a shift in myself and in the news I was reading. The visceral sense of violence, the fear, the uncertainty had started to fade away. People went back to old mental habits: less focus on what just happened, more maneuvering about who to blame for the future. It started to feel, both reading others and internally, a bit more like the cinema again.

I have friends with many opinions connected to Israel. They run the gamut. Most don’t agree with me — or each other. Most have opinions — few could tell you basic details about the country or people they supposedly care much about. I see so much reasoning by analogy. It’s not a place to score points, it’s real people in a truly messed up situation.

I’ve thought about it a bit, and here’s the line I’m drawing in the sand. Today is a sad day. A terrible day. Murdering innocent people is wrong, no matter who you are. You can tack on any political analysis you like to it, blame anyone you want. Call it blowback, call it inevitable, whatever. That’s fine. But if you’re cheering, excited, happy, or proud today — that’s where you’ve made a terrible moral error, and I lose my respect and affection for you.

Talia Lavin, of all people, put it best: “praying for a swift merciful and just end to this war that spares as many innocent people as possible”


The McDonald’s gambit

A long while ago I read about a concept the author called “the McDonald’s gambit”. Some web sleuthing couldn’t find it, and I use this idea all the time. So this is me recording it for future citation.

Imagine you’re with a group of people. Maybe friendly aquaintances, or coworkers. Maybe just you and your girlfriend. You’re trying to figure out where to go eat.

No one suggests an idea. There’s just silence. Probably because no one wants to impose their views on others — but in respecting people’s preferences they aren’t respecting their time or ability to speak up for themselves.

You need to break this logjam. You don’t need to propose an actually good idea. That’s kind of unhelpful, really. The point isn’t to impose your favorite restaurant on the group. The point is to start discussion. The tactic is to provoke them by making an outlandishly bad suggestion.

Say this — “how about we get McDonald’s?”

“McDonald’s!?” someone will cry out. “I mean we might as well go to Thai Thanic, that’s better than McDonald’s. Eww”.

Then someone will say “Oh, I don’t like Thai Thanic, let’s try Kumquat Kitchen”.

And presto! You’ve successfully jolted real preferences to be expressed. All through the power of the McDonalds Gambit.

(And of course, pro-tip, it doesn’t have to be just about food.)

Cross-posting to my substack


Sounds of Sephardic Yom Kippur

I’m currently obsessed with this playlist.

Growing up in a sephardic shul, this was the kind of liturgy/music I was surrounded with. Though not quite — imagine no musical instruments, and about twenty old men refugees from Iran, Syria, Iraq, etc chanting instead.

Even back as a kid who was in an itchy suit, generally bored, and unhappy about being there, these songs (and I experienced them as songs) were really powerful. There was a sort of dusty, strained, longing in the voices of these men around me. Recreating, for just a few days a year, the accents, the music, the feeling of the countries they fled for their lives, in their youth.

When I was young, I heard a fair amount about my parents’ story — or rather my mother’s family. My dad was always closed-lipped about it. I know about how my grandparents fled Iran on the last ever commercial flight from Tehran to Tel Aviv. (Story here). But it was a personal story, not a larger historical-political one. What I missed was an understanding that everyone in that synagogue had a similar experience to my parents.

There was only one Sephardic shul in town. I say “Sephardic” and “Shul” kind of loosely — everyone not Ashkenazi [including persian, sephardic, mizrahi jews] was there. While “shul” generally refers to orthodox places of prayer, (“synagogue is for conservatives, temple for reform jews”), we covered everyone. Especially since for non-Ashkenazi jews, the whole “orthodox” “reform” “conservative” split is kind of alien.

I think a lot about jewish refugees from arab countries. Their old lives are gone. Very few jews are left in places like Afghanistan. The people in vibrant towns and enclaves were pogrom’d, harassed, and kicked out. And for those that ended up in places like Rochester, NY — they didn’t really fit the mold of what “jewish” tends to be assumed to mean in the US.

Anyway. This music takes me back. It makes emotional. I think you’d like it.

Start with #2: Et Sha’areh Ratson.

Thanks to The Kitchen for making this available on Soundcloud. Specifically Asher Shasho Levy


My update to the Berkman Community

Hey! I’m a Berkman/RSM fellow this year, and also still an affiliate. They asked for a mid-year check in email to the community. It took a while. I figure, why not share it here? This is a verbatim copy of what I wrote, modolus some formatting differences.

Hey friends! My, how time flies.

As a reminder — I’m Sahar. This is my life story. This is what I’m up to now (in a more personal way). Mainly I run Integrity Institute. I was a fellow in 20-21, an affiliate since, and now I’m also an RSM fellow.

🧱 Work projects and success
  • I’m running Integrity Institute.
    • We are a think tank on how to fix the social internet, powered by our members: tech professionals who have experience on teams like: integrity, trust and safety, anti abuse, responsible design, content or behavior moderation, and so on.
  • We’ve moved from 2 co-founders and 1 staff to 2 co-founders and 5 full-time staff.
  • The recent chatter around “tech exodus” and “how do we integrate these people into civil society” is a thing we pretty much called 2 years ago. Now a big challenge is finding the funders who be delighted to realize we exist and that we are already doing the work they wish was happening. (Do you have advice on that?)
  • People tell me that we’re the luckiest nonprofit in the world and we’re doing great! I guess I have high standards for what we could be doing. It’s an important moment.
  • I like finding ways we can partner. We have in abundance: actual workers who fix social media for a living. First-hand knowledge. We also have in abundance: organizations, governments, journalists trying to talk to us. We do not have in abundance: staff time, general operating support, a moment to breathe.
👋 Personal projects:
  • I’m getting married! 
  • I still run this blog, and I still make mixtapes. I’m behind on mixtapes, I would love your suggestions of great music to put on mixtapes to send to my boo
  • For fun, I still matchmake people in a romance, housing, or jobs way. Feel free to follow along or join.
  • I moved to Brooklyn! I’m in Crown Heights and would like to be part of more local (and niche) communities
🐫 Specific work examples in case you like that sort of thing
💬 Thinking projects

I’m trying to spend time writing and thinking out loud again. Things I’m trying to find the time to finally write:

  • The case for hiring integrity workers (to do integrity work or “normal” product work)
  • This work is not (or should not be) a cost center. (It’s about long-term retention and product quality!)
  • The macroeconomics of social platforms: thinking about supply, demand, and distribution for content
  • Using “integrity thinking” (incentives, supply/demand, etc) to diagnose governance failures in social media
  • More about how the answer is design and behavior moderation. “Content moderation” is a bad metaphor
  • The retweet/share/forward button is bad.
  • How to think about ranking and recommendation systems (“algorithms”). The answer is: 1. this is actually simple. 2. here’s a fun metaphor involving crazed chef robots. 3. Just look at a/b test results
  • Social media companies are actually weak and easily bullied. Even as the platforms they own are powerful and important. This is a bad thing.

It could be fun to take my ideas/bullets that could be blog posts or op-eds, and work with others to turn them into more fleshed out papers or something. Let’s think and write together. I also know that Zahra Stardust and I need to finish cowriting our thing together.

🥰 Hooray for BKC people

I want to shout out the staff and community members of BKC. It’s been delightful spending time with you, including over the last semester.

This includes pretty much all staff at RSM, my fellow fellows at RSM, and the staff at BKC. Mentioning everyone would be a fool’s errand, but some recent connections and shout-outs:

  • I had a lovely time getting to know Biella Coleman at Bruce Schneier’s party a few weeks ago
  • Tom Zick and I met as BKC fellows, stayed friends in Boston, and now I just invited her to my wedding!
  • Rebecca Rinkevitch and Sue Hendrickson and I keep running into each other at conferences! Including one where Micaela Mantegna was there
  • I met, separately, Marissa Gerchick and Joe Bak-Coleman for 1-1 hanging out time in Brooklyn lately, and I hope soon the 3 of us plus Nate Lubin can hang out altogether.
  • Kathryn Hymes met Marissa and I for the best cocktails in brooklyn the other day.
  • Susan Benesch and I had a few deep conversations. And Elodie advised my staff on how to understand the conference landscape.
  • Joanne Cheung and I had a lovely long conversation in an oddly cavernous and loud restaurant at Union Square Manhattan.

If you’ve gotten all the way this far down the email, wow! Hooray. Please accept this cookie. 🍪


Media for the sick

Someone I’m friendly with is undergoing a long convalescence.

They asked for recommendations for media, books, podcasts, etc. I figured I might as well post them here. This is by no means a comprehensive list of what I like. But it is stuff I think you can enjoy without paying extreme amounts of attention.


Remember college humor? They turned into “a netflix”. A streaming service full of their own shows. Great shows! Their DND shows are the flagship (Dimension 20 — start with Fantasy High). The shows draw from the same cast of comedians. Really good stuff.

But Gamechanger is also great.

A game show that changes its format every episode

Worth paying the $5/month

But also a lot of it is on youtube. Fantasy High for example.

Old standards

Adventure time!

Steven Universe!

The Good Place

Parks and Rec

30 Rock

Video Games

Slay the Spire is great. A wonderful way to spend a lot of time. If you get it on a computer (rather than iPad) you can install Downfall, which is a mod that makes the game more than 100% better

There also are iPad games that are board games ported to the iPad. Delightful ones.

  • Ascension
  • Mystic Vale
  • Lords of Waterdeep
  • Mysterium
  • Transistor
  • Paperback
  • Mystic Valley
  • Old standards I don’t love: Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan

Hades is fantastic


Teamster Rebellion is a nonfiction account of the general strike in Minneapolis. Reads like a thriller

The Discworld series by Terry Pratchett is great. His work can be split into early, mid, and late. All periods are good, but each is different. 

Also within that series are many mini series, each following a different protagonist.

More on how to follow the reading list.

Going Postal is a great place to start.


Revolutions podcast is beautiful. Each season is a different revolution. Spoken as a history. Fun!


The boss and the layoffs

Back in mid-2019, I had decided I was going to move to Boston and live with Sarah. Facebook didn’t like this idea. There was an office in Boston, but that wasn’t good enough. They said I couldn’t stay on the civic team, and had to shop around to the teams that were physically located in Boston. Also, all those teams were looking for criteria that I didn’t meet.

Long story short, I found a team that I liked and would take me. (Presto!) But I still was pretty upset. I loved my team at Civic. I didn’t want to leave. And I was being forced to, in essence, break up with a ton of work friends. Dozens of people that I liked, was already dreading moving physically away from — now I was being told that I wasn’t allowed to work on projects with them any more. Our friendships would be abruptly severed, or else badly wounded.

They threw me a going away party. That was sweet. I gave a little impromptu speech. I forgot everything I said there, but I do remember three points I made:

  • It is fundamentally unfair that the boss can decide that you’re not allowed to hang out with your friends any more.
  • The work we do is important, and could easily be bent towards evil ends. Be aware.
  • Take care of each other.

While I don’t really remember what I said, I do remember feeling fiery, and I do remember the look on people’s faces as I was giving that speech. I think it made an impression.

That brings me to the news of the last few weeks and months. Layoffs at Meta. Layoffs at Twitter. Layoffs everywhere. And now, layoffs at Google, the last bastion of old school big tech.

I wrote a little thing to our members about it. Here’s the link. I felt the old anger in me as I wrote it. Most layoffs are in fact unfair. (And it brought me to the lovely story of Saturo Iwata)

I’ve also pasted it below. Here it is:

Today was another bad day for the industry. There have a been more than a few bad days recently, huh? Layoffs and fear and uncertainty. All within companies that (with a few exceptions) remain profitable, well-resourced, and with a highly compensated executive suite.

To everyone who lost their job recently, fears for their continued employment, or is just plain sad or angry — this sucks, and I’m with you. It’s not fair that a boss can quickly sever your ties with your work friends, or put your livelihood in doubt, or just plain cause so much anxiety over a thing that wasn’t your fault. It’s not fair to move from arguing “let integrity workers like me do our jobs” to “let integrity workers like me be still employed”

If you’re an ex-Googler, ex-something-else or just generally want to talk; let me know. I imagine all of us on staff would be open to talking things out; I’ll just speak for myself and let them chime in in the comments.

If you’re still at a company, feeling perhaps shellshocked, overcommitted, survivor’s guilt, or anything else; we see you and we’re here for you too. This is a bad situation for everyone. Let us know how we can help.

Lastly, you might need time to process and aren’t ready to talk right now and that’s ok too. We’re here when you are ready — whether that’s next week, next month or anytime.

Knowing precisely what to say in moments like this is hard. We’re all scattered in different places, with different reactions to all this. But I hope this helps:

  • We are a community for the long haul. A community is a thing that you stay part of, even when your job changes. (If you leave a thing when you change jobs, it’s not a community, it’s an industry). Once a member, always a member.
  • We’re still encouraging people to swap job leads in #classifieds and are actively soliciting opportunities from partners, trying to set up paid fellowships for y’all in partnership with other organizations, and generally seeing what we can do. Thanks to the members who already have been proactively sharing leads.
  • A small thing that came across my desk today: Travis, the guy who runs Tech Congress, specifically wants to recruit you. They have fellowships for tech professionals (like us!) to embed as congressional staffers for a year. Different levels of fellowship for different amounts of experience. If you want to affect policy and understand how legislation works, this is a good option. (It’s paid, not amazingly) [link to more info in Slack’]
    • If you want a personal introduction to him, or are in any way interested, let me know.

Thanks for all that you do. And remember — we’re in this together.


Things I forgot to mention lately

I’ve been pretty busy lately and a lot has happened. I should update you! Normally, each of these might be fleshed out in a post of their own, but since I haven’t found the time, let’s do some bullets:

Big overview thing: Integrity Institute hit our 1-year anniversary. We did a long tweet thread of our last year. It’s pretty amazing to see it in one place.

Example items:

Some stuff that wasn’t listed there (that is still work stuff):

Not-work stuff:

  • Sarah and I got engaged! I think I mentioned that
  • We just booked a wedding venue today
  • We moved to Brooklyn
  • I bought a gaming PC
  • I bought a copy of Dragon Warrior Monsters 2 — a game from 20 years ago that I have dreamed about playing for ages. So glad I did that
  • I’m a Berkman Rebooting Social Media fellow
  • I’m on … mastodon now?
  • My non-work life is pretty boring tbh

Did I miss anything?

Honestly I’d love suggestions on what to do with my life non-workwise. I have gotten seriously out of whack. I’m so tired all the time, and I know I should go do things but I never seem to find the energy, and I never seem to stop working until 9 or 10 pm.


Integrity Institute at 1

It’s the one-year anniversary since we went public.

To celebrate, we made a tweet thread just listing the bigger/more public stuff we’ve done over the last year. It’s a big list. Kind of crazy to see it all in one place.

Check it out here: