As I’m getting more experience in running my IsraelB online community, I’m realizing how sensitive and careful you must be when posting content, as sometimes what you write can be misunderstood and twisted.
When you talk to someone face-to-face and you insult or embarrass them, you feel bad. Why? Because you see the impact of your words on their faces and body language. They may blush, look angry, shout back and in the worst scenarios, get physical.
Since the advent of social media, this is not the case.
When you write a comment or opinion on social media, whilst the impact of your words is far greater than a face-to-face encounter, you don’t fully appreciate how much damage and pain your words may have caused. Reputations can be ruined, jobs lost, families torn apart and relationships and friendships broken. All as a result of an offhand and /or irresponsible quip or comment.
The worst thing is, unlike in a face-to-face encounter, on social media you don’t suffer the consequences of your actions. You can remain anonymous which allows you to express yourself more freely than you would in real, human interaction.
A few months ago, Mark Zuckerberg, celebrated 2 billion users on Facebook. Yes, this is a great achievement,but despite all the good that social media and Facebook does in connecting people and making us all feel a little less lonely, as someone who works in social media and runs the IsraelB online community, and therefore had been following the ‘discussions’ surrounding the Rabbi Dweck case that occurred earlier this year, I can say that in that story, we had also been exposed to how much damage and harm social media can do.
I am not just talking about the Rabbi Dweck episode earlier this year, but I can think of plenty of other cases in the past year where social media discussions surrounding issues in our community have not informed and moved us forward, but rather confused, creating unnecessary ill feeling and disunity.
Furthermore, many people who post blogs or write opinions are actually being paid to do so or have an agenda and so their views are not objective or representative of the truth.
My question is, due to its power and reach, is social media the appropriate forum to discuss these types of community issues, like the Rabbi Dweck case? Yes, on the one hand, people have every right to express their opinions, learn more and be heard. But, on the other hand, we have seen how much misinformation has been passed around in the Rabbi Dweck case earlier this year, that in fact in my view, far more damage has been done that good and we are all to blame, as we write it or read it.
Even now when I see rabbanim criticize other rabbanim on Facebook on a whole range of issues, I ask myself, was that really necessary? Especially often when those rabbanim who are being criticized are not on Facebook and won’t respond or defend themselves, why on earth use Facebook to criticize them? Would Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach or Rav Aharon Lichtenstein have written that type of thing? Couldn’t he just have picked up the phone or written a private email and asked for clarification, rather than an all out public attack on Facebook?
Has social media caused us to become totally desensitized and oblivious to how much damage our words can cause? Sadly, I think for many people, the answer is yes.
So, yes, I’m the first one to argue that social media has a great role to play in connecting people, and yes, Mark Zuckerberg has every reason to celebrate reaching the 2 billion mark earlier this year, but let’s also, all of us, be far more careful with what we write and bear in mind what the Rabbis say in Pirkei Avot (1:11):
‘Avtalyon would say: Scholars, be careful with your words. For you may be exiled to a place inhabited by evil elements [who will distort your words to suit their negative purposes]. The disciples who come after you will then drink of these evil waters and be destroyed, and the Name of Heaven will be desecrated.’
So, yes when it comes to posting interesting blogs on the Parsha or Halacha or pictures from Israel showing what a beautiful country it is or videos from a simcha sharing your happy times, Facebook is the place. We all like seeing interesting content and happy news.
But, I really think we need to think more than twice, before getting involved in discussing contentious community issues on social media.
This year, let’s use our words to build and create, rather than to destroy and humiliate.