A Different Kind of Social Media Boycott

(PIxabay)
(PIxabay)

In case it was unclear to anyone on the planet that in 2020 anti-Semitism is still a thing, we have the last month to reflect upon. A month in which world famous musicians, actors and athletes went on hurtful rants, echoing age old anti-Semitic tropes that you read about in the history books.

As of this writing, the most recent offender was from British rapper Wiley, who went on a two day anti-Semitic rant, spewing hate to his half a million followers on Twitter and Instagram before Twitter intervened and ultimately shut down his account.  In response, Jewish actress Tracy-Ann Oberman posted, “Please join us. @Twitter has allowed @WileyCEO 48 hours of pure race hate. His tweets are still up. @jack has to stick by their remit of anti racism. Silence is complicity. Please walk out with us. No to all race hate. No to platforming any race hate #nosafespaceforjewhate. Jewish leaders like Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of the UK joined the boycott and wrote a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey indicating his intention to participate in the boycott, and powerfully stating, “Your inaction amounts to complicity.”

When I originally read about this boycott, my cynical 30+ year old brain thought something along these lines: This is very cute and sweet, but if I, and even thousands of other Jews boycott Twitter for the day, that is no skin off Jack Dorsey’s back, as he still has approximately another 330 million folks on it. So, while I am sure my pithy tweets will be deeply missed, the world will indeed carry on. Maybe I should boycott Instagram, said the cynical voice in my head, but they probably won’t care too much either, as they have another 1 BILLION folks out there still using it despite the anti-Semitism that people have disseminated on that platform as of late.

The truth is, while these were my initial thoughts, this boycott is not even the focus of this post. I even came around on the idea–it’s not as much quantity as it is quality, and when these well known Jewish and non Jewish advocates boycott social media, people take note. Awareness is raised, and I tip my cap to them for affecting change and creating a conversation.

I am writing tonight, however, on the night of Tisha Bav, advocating a 24 hour boycott of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for a different reason altogether. Not because of anti-Semitism– we know that exists on these platforms and I am not convinced anything I do or say can change it. And not because spending time on these platforms amounts to a colossal waste of time, and claims massive chunks of our lives that we can never recover. The reason I am advocating for a 24 hour walk out from Social Media today, on Tisha Bav is because social media has been a dangerous tool to drive massive wedges between large segments of society.

We know that the reason we are mourning today–the reason I write this post with parched lips, sitting on the floor in my living room instead of my dining room table– is because of sinas chinam, or baseless hatred. Every generation, our rabbis tell us, in which the Temple is not rebuilt, it’s as if we ourselves destroyed it. This means that we are part of the plague of hating people for no reason whatsoever, and it is because of us, in part, that we sit here trembling and fearful in this bitter exile.

And now, in the world dominated by social media, which has BILLIONS of users, baseless hatred seems to be more prevalent than ever before. If someone posts something online that we don’t fully agree with then one of the following scenarios likely plays out: A) We view this person’s views as crazy and lose respect for them, no longer liking them as much. B) We engage the person online, often speaking in–to put it mildly– a less than respectful tone, which is so much easier to do when sitting behind the safe haven of a computer screen. C) We feel so triggered and offended by them then rather than engage in a respectful dialogue we immediately unfriend them, effectively cancelling them from our live’s like an old magazine subscription, as if they never existed, because they expressed an opinion that did not conform to our own narrow world-views.

When we hate someone because they said something we disagree with on Social Media, the problem lies with us. When we hate someone for the political party or candidate they vote for, we are the problem, not them.

The Mishna in Pirkei Avos tells us to be like a student of Aaron, to love peace and to pursue peace. Social media, unfortunately has taken a polar opposite role in our lives– it loves conflict and pursues conflict. Merely thinking about the amount of “friendships” lost over social media posts is truly frightening.

So, on Tisha Bav 5780, I politely say, “enough.” I know my lack of posts will be of no concern to Jack Dorsey or Mark Zuckerberg, but that is not the point. For one day– the day we are still forced to observe because of our lack of respect for one another and our enmity for each other– I am going to actively disengage. I don’t want to see it. Frankly, I want no part of it.

Instead of spending these next 24 hours on Social Media, wasting large swaths of time and depressing myself by witnessing the hateful manner in which people with conflicting world-views communicate with each other these days, I’m going to sit on the floor, pondering how I can be more loving, more giving, and more caring. I am going to reflect on the state of this broken fragmented society we live in, and make a plan for how I personally can help repair it, and put it back together one shattered piece at a time.

About the Author
Rabbi Daniel Wolfe recently became the Director for JewPro, the Young Adult Division of the Jewish Experience of Denver, Colorado. For the last three years prior, he was a campus rabbi at SUNY Albany for Aish New York. He holds a BA From Brandeis University, double majoring in Politics and Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. He enjoys writing, and maintains an active blog.
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