Two weeks ago I received a number of frantic phone calls and messages. Â A well-trafficked Jewish blog published a story that was factually untrue. Â The ignorance and hatred in the comments were highly offensive to those engaged in this episode. Â As one of the resident “social media” guys in the neighborhood I was called upon to “fix it”. Â I tried snapping my fingers, but apparently I haven’t yet developed my power to change minds without engaging them.
While hate-filled and ill-informed publishing and commenting are common across the web, we as Jews must live by a higher standard.
The same morals, laws and ethics that govern our in-person behavior must also govern our digital behavior. Â The veil of digital annonymity does not escape the All-Knowing, and the impact thisÂ divisiveÂ behavior has on our communities is very real. Â The halachot of digital interaction and the application of accepted privacy norms (such as gneivat da’at) apply online as they do offline. Â The scale and social nature of the internet however, raises the stakes.
Intracommunal Â disagreements become publicÂ chillulei hashemÂ when shared and discussed online. Â The mainstream media has been known to quote Jewish blogs and more than a few anti-semetic websites have linked to or otherwise quoted content originating in Jewish social media.
As rumors scale through the internet, lives areÂ irreparablyÂ damaged. Â I have a good friend who, on a job interview for a yeshiva administrator position,Â was questioned about a fairly benign skit he participated in over a decade earlier. Â This skit had been posted (without hisÂ permission) on YouTube without the appropriate social context, and generated a good deal of attention. Â In another unrelated incident, a friend told me about a Rabbi that was accused of engaging in inappropriate conduct on a blog. Â As these unsubstantiated rumors spread, careers and/or families can be destroyed. Â Repetition doesn’t make a libelous rumor true.
The anonymity of the of the web by it’s nature invites extremist and at times childish discourse. Â While comment moderation on many prominent Jewish websites and blogs has improved, there is still a great deal of room for growth. Â Perhaps most alarming, is that many of these commenters consider themselves to be torah observant. Â I strongly doubt that many of these commenters would make the same statements at their Rabbi’s table.
We are by nature drawn to sensationalism, and nothing is as sensational as a good conflict. Â Repeated exposure to the worst in our society will shift our perspective of our own community.
On the flip side, social media has the power to unite our community and inspire our growth.
Our Place, an amazing drop-in center for at-risk teens in Brooklyn, NY was on the verge of shutting down due to financial pressures. Â This vital community resource successfully raised a great deal of much needed funds through social media advertising, fundraising and content and community advocacy.
Bloggers likeÂ Rabbis Gil Student Â and Ari EnkinÂ are facilitating an intellectual torah revolution. Â Torah intellectuals across the world are discovering one another, finding common interests, uniting behind niche causes and participating in a dialogue that elevates the level of modern intellectual torah thinking on a global scale.
When young Lieby Kletzky went missing, thousands of volunteers used social media to coordinate prayers, support for the family,Â participate in the search and raise astronomical funds in his memory.
Social media has the power to bring us together.
We cannot prevent fools from behaving like baboons. Â But we can define our acceptable communal code of social conduct and enforce it through our own action. Â We can self-select our digital media sources and demand a higher standard from those blogs and sites we frequent. Â We can write posts that highlight our common ground and push towards a brighter future. Â We can consult our spiritual and moral leadership before commenting or posting. Â Possibly most importantly, we can start this discussion, raise communal awareness and being to educate our community on acceptable standards for digital social conduct.
Blogging is a medium. Â It is not evil or pure, it is a blank slate to be filled. Â It our choice to do with it what we may. Â As a social publication, we as Jewish bloggers have aÂ responsibilityÂ to look beyond our individual thoughts and perspectives and take into account the communal and aggregate impact of our actions.
I do not believe that this post will eliminate the snark or change the world. Â But I do believe that this blog provides a fertile ground for starting this discussion. Â Please join in and share your thoughts on Twitter, Facebook, on your own blogs, or in the comments below.