Tag Archives: gossip

Ten Commandments of Social Media – Post-Election Edition

Just over two years ago, Behrman House and Darim Online each had me write a version of an article I had written about reclaiming and taking ownership for one’s social media space.  The Darim piece is at Darim Online, and the Berhman House piece, in Ten Commandments form is at Ten Commandments of Social Media with a second part at Jewish Education and Social Media.

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The recent elections in the United States were heavily influenced by what appeared on social media. And since the elections, social media has become a battle ground for a deeply divided country.  With that in mind, I share my new version of the Ten Commandments for Social Media with guidance from Jewish teachings:

  1. “Avtalion said: Wise people, be careful with your words”. Words are not “just words”(Mishnah Avot). They are actions, once you say them, and even more so once you write them. Use caution.
  2. “Distance yourself from false words”(Exodus 23:7). In the election’s aftermath, people are making up stories and posting them on social media as fact (e.g., absentee votes aren’t counted except to break a tie, Ivanka Trump isn’t going to the Inaugural because it’s on the eve of Shabbat, to name a few outright falsehoods that show up on my feeds).
  3. ” Truth and peace we love” (Prayer of the Hazan on High Holidays). Truth is a primary value. This is not simply about avoiding falsehood, but about pursuing truth. That’s right, I consider fact-checking to be the performance of a religious obligation. Educators know how to do this. We don’t teach something unless we are certain that it is true. We need to use the same standard on social media.
  4. Lashon Naki (Clean speech). The Talmud mentions instances in which the Torah went out of its way to use wording that was “pure” and not insulting or inappropriate. My immediate assumption, when someone curses while stating an opinion is that either a. they aren’t sure enough of their point to make it with objective language, or b. they are posting while enraged. Which leads me to…
  5. Maimonides’ teaching that “One who becomes angry is as though that person had worshipped idols.”  No, we can’t control our feelings, but we’d better be able to manage them.  If you’re enraged, social media isn’t the best place to respond. Run a mile, do kickboxing, meditate, or whatever works for you. Then, decide if you want to post something.
  6. “Judaism is a religion of listening” (Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks) – While his statement refers to humans listening to God, I expand it to apply to humans listening to each other (since, after all, we are all in the image of God). If you just spew your ideas, you’re not growing. But the dialogue that social media gives us allows us to broaden our horizons. If we listen.
  7. “Seek peace and pursue it”(Psalms 34:14). This is a great time for peacemaking. Our country and our world face problems that go beyond a particular philosophy or even a particular country’s borders. Time to create the peace and the coalitions that are going to address environmental issues, poverty and human rights. Want to troll for a fight? Do it elsewhere. Not on my social media space.
  8. Tzelem Elohim.  Everyone is created in God’s image, or, if you prefer, with a spark of divinity. Everyone deserves respect:  President Obama, Secretary Clinton, President-elect Trump, the protesters in the streets and the folks who are exuberant about the election results. I police my social media territory to make sure that all who are my guests there treat each other respectfully and refrain from insulting others.
  9. Tikkun Olam. The mystics taught that our job is to repair a world that somehow went off track from the time of creation. In recent years, we’ve adopted it to mean anything we do to make the physical world a better place. Adding positive energy and action via social media? Great. Adding negatives? Find someone else’s space.
  10. Lashon Hara. Gossip, even when true, is still gossip. If it’s the need to call someone or something out because it will endanger others, different story. But simply to accuse or to spread rumors? Off limits.

Our presence, in real time, real space or in social media-land, can make a difference. Let’s all agree to use our presence for life, for our country, for our world.

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Civilility, Class and the 2016 Presidential Election

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A while back, I joined a few online groups committed to keeping things civil on social media and the internet. Great idea. Aligned with my Jewish values that are supposed to keep us (inclusive us: Jews, as well as the world) away from lashon hara and rechilut (some disagreement about how the terms differ, but generally, lashon hara is any chatter, while the rechilut brand of gossip is one that typically pits people against one another). To my disappointment, I heard little of nothing from any of these groups. I can’t tell whether the groups dissolved or merely died of frustration, much like the salmon trying to swim upstream.

In case there was any question about the ability of people to use the internet to spread malicious gossip and slander, this year’s election campaign removed all doubt. Oh, and lest we think that we might have a classy process, being classy went down with the now-famous discussion about the size of body parts in the Republican debates.

But back to the social networks. Real posts from Facebook friends and friends of friends, as well as from those I follow on Twitter have included the following goodies:

“Hillary Clinton is an anti-Semite”

“Hillary Clinton is anti-Israel”

“Obama hates Israel”

“Trump is like Hitler”

“Trump is a Nazi”

“Sanders is a self-hating Jew”

and so on.

It is as if the teaching of the Mishna, warning those who are wise to “be careful with your words” was missing from the texts of some of my Jewish friends. Or perhaps they simply decided that it was too much work to be “wise” and that this quote no longer applied to them.

Along the way from the civility of the early days of the campaign to this point, my friends have lost track of what the campaign was all about:  an opportunity to talk about the real issues that we face as a nation and as a world; a comparison of approaches for the best ways to respond to those challenges; and a healthy debate about what each candidate offers.

Also lost in the shuffle: respect for elected officials. For people to pray for the welfare of the president on Saturday and Sunday, and then trash talk him the rest of the week, is religious hypocrisy.

Oh, as to the previously mentioned posts:  None of the major presidential candidates has shown any evidence — in the past or present — of anti-Semitic feelings. You want to know what presidential anti-Semitism sounds like? Take a listen to some of the Nixon tapes. And by the way, his administration saved Israel’s hide during the Yom Kippur War. Do what you want with that.

No, nobody has shown evidence of being anti-Israel. There is a debate, in the United States as well as in Israel, what being pro-Israel will look like as we go into the future. It might not mean that Americans (or Jews) have to support every prime minister’s policies. It might mean that those who ask for a shortcut to the two state solution to which Israel has committed itself have to be respected as part of the dialogue alongside those who believe that the Palestinians cannot, in the current situation, be trusted partners in peace. This isn’t the first time that friends of Israel have had to open the doors to a new way of relating to Israel. It was just as earthshaking when Israel, founded and led by those with a utopian, Socialist bent, voted in the 1970’s to move to a more conservative set of governments. And it took quite some time for Israel’s friends to move towards support for a new set of government platforms.

Oh, and Trump isn’t Hitler. Scary? Sure. Inexperienced in public service? Totally. Verbally supporting violence? Yup. But as scary as he is, nothing he has said approaches Mein Kampf level. And by the time Hitler was entering political life in a serious way, that book had already laid out a future course.

Is the Bern a self-hating Jew? I have no idea. More likely than not, he is typical of a significant, if not majority of the American Jewish population:  knows he has Jewish roots, believes in “Jewish values” (which are, pretty often, humanitarian values that have a reflect the “in the image of God” idea), is not involved in synagogue or Jewish philanthropic life, and feels some vague connection to Israel.

So, let’s move along. Each of the candidates (even Vermin Supreme) is created in God’s image and they, along with our president, deserve the respect due to another human. Each of the major (and many of the minor) candidates have a vision in mind. We can disagree with that vision and with the paths that would get us there. But insults and slander will not lead to results that will be helpful for our country or our world.

A simple proposal:  In any other forum, some of the things being said about the candidates would result in a person being sued for slander. Let’s pretend that the rules are no different for presidential campaigns. Stand up for what you believe in. Oppose what you feel is detrimental. And let’s do so with respect and with class, not with slander. We’re created in God’s image. Let’s start acting like it.