T-shirts imprinted with eye-catching sayings are commonplace, each competing with the other in cuteness and cleverness. One of my favorites that I've seen reads: "National Sarcasm Society -- Like We Need Your Support". Your choice of t-shirt is a personal marketing decision. You send the world a message of who you are and how you want to be perceived.  Imagine wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with your most personal information. Everyone who sees you knows about your social life, your preferences, your highest moments and worst defeats. No one would wear such a t-shirt because doing so is an abandonment of privacy, a destruction of the social boundaries we need to allow us to experiment and grow.

The Facebook Challenge

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My article on Aish.com (link):

T-shirts imprinted with eye-catching sayings are commonplace, each competing with the other in cuteness and cleverness. One of my favorites that I’ve seen reads: “National Sarcasm Society — Like We Need Your Support”. Your choice of t-shirt is a personal marketing decision. You send the world a message of who you are and how you want to be perceived. 

Imagine wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with your most personal information. Everyone who sees you knows about your social life, your preferences, your highest moments and worst defeats. No one would wear such a t-shirt because doing so is an abandonment of privacy, a destruction of the social boundaries we need to allow us to experiment and grow.  

Misuse of Facebook is wearing that exposing t-shirt. Facebook, the ground-breaking social platform that has taken the world by storm, allows users to connect with others and share with them text and links, schedules and events, pictures and videos. Posting pictures of private moments for all to see, sharing with the world personal thoughts on all matters, broadcasting preferences to anyone who cares are acts of exhibitionism.

Responsible users, those who are mindful of their privacy and capable of maintaining proper boundaries, can overcome this problem. You always have to protect your personal information online, keeping a firewall between your real life and your online persona. Facebook, which is designed for personal revelation, is an ongoing temptation to overstep the boundaries of privacy. You are tasked with resisting the exhibitionist urge.

Facebook is not inherently good or evil. It does not invade your privacy nor reveal your personal secrets. If you use Facebook wisely, mindful that the internet is not your personal diary and that public information is, of course, public, then you stand to gain much from your experience. A hammer can be used to smash someone on the head or build a home. You must choose how to use that tool.

The Talmud has a saying regarding the harm caused by spreading gossip: your friend has a friend (Kesubos 109b). When you gossip to a single person, you tell the story to not just that friend but to every friend that he has. This is the danger of Facebook. Your embarrassing story is spread to your friends, who may very well convey it to their friends also. As this circle of intimates grows exponentially, so does the damage of your every indiscretion.

But this power can also be used for good. Your inspirational story is just as easily spread throughout the social network. Your good news or innovative idea travels to your friends, who in turn also have friends. Pretty soon the joy and excitement has brightened hundreds of people’s day and stimulated many thoughtful minds. It is your choice how to use the Facebook hammer.

The Echo Chamber

The Talmud states that one should ideally study under at least two teachers in your academic career (Avodah Zarah 19a). The varying viewpoints broaden your horizons, forcing you to think carefully and preventing you from entering a comfort zone of groupthink. Facebook, like much of the internet and cable news phenomena, can undermine that attitude. When we associate almost exclusively with people who think like us, we enter an echo chamber that reverberates with the same, single viewpoint. We never consider other points of view or question the constantly repeated ideas that surround us.

Facebook amplifies this problem. The sharing of thoughts, articles, links and more within a social circle creates an enveloping online community of groupthink. The echo chamber is deafening. But it doesn’t have to be. Facebook can serve the exact opposite purpose to those who are open to variety.

Your friend has a friend, and so on ad infinitum. This Talmudic principle, which serves as the theoretical basis of Facebook, can merge with the Talmudic advice of studying under multiple teachers to create a robust, educational experience. When social circles intersect, you meet people with different backgrounds and viewpoints. You learn about the experiences, thoughts and interests of people who think differently than you. Facebook, when used properly, is the solution to the internet. It breaks through the echo chamber. It expands your interests, teaches you new ideas and approaches, and allows you to see the world through other people’s eyes.

The internet must be built on responsible netizenship. This requires living primarily in the real world and using the internet as a tool. You have to avoid addictive behavior and stay away from what you think are other people’s oversharing. One person’s exhibitionism need not be your voyeurism. Ignore it and move on. Seek intelligent conversation and stimulating topics. Facebook is a way to share with others what you think may interest them and to likewise share in what they think will interest you. To engage in the enriching experience you must find people who have something valuable to offer.

Using Facebook to build rather than destroy requires thought and planning. While responsible behavior is a learned trait, one who masters this skill faces vast opportunities for personal growth.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

7 comments

  1. Today I heard a sichat mussar by R’Yehoshua Shapira, RY of Yeshivat Hesder Ramat-Gan, on the subject of the use of the internet in general and specifically the use of facebook. He called facebook a moral Tsunami which is engulfing the cyberworld and from which olam hatorah is in no way immune. R’ Shapira,one of the founders of Internet Rimon, knows whereof he speaks. While he admitted that the internet is a fact of life, he made an impassioned plea for a total cherem on the use of facebook. He brought the painful example of a group of girls at a highly respected Ulpana who put up immodest photos on facebook. What would The Chafetz Chayim ZTZL say about Facebook, he who in his time wept when Radin was connected to the telephone and said that that instrument would magnify Lashon Hara a-thousand fold?

  2. Nobody, but nobody, listens to teh CC about the telephone; why should they listen to what he might have said about Facebook?

  3. Joseph Kaplan on January 10, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    Nobody, but nobody, listens to teh CC about the telephone; why should they listen to what he might have said about Facebook?

    The real question is not whether anyone listens to the CC about the telephone, it is whether he was correct about the telephone magnifying lashon hara. In my humble opinion, it would seem he was quite on target.

    Rather than writing off a warning of a potential danger (whether about the telephone or about facebook, it seems only logical to emphasize that danger and strive to minimize the damage. You obviously disagree with the recommended technique. Do you also disagree with the underlying message (that facebook presents potential pitfalls for a religious person)?

  4. The real question is not whether anyone listens to the CC about the telephone, it is whether he was correct about the telephone magnifying lashon hara. In my humble opinion, it would seem he was quite on target.
    ==============================================
    When Paroh wanted the Jews to stop talking about freedom, he increased their workload. It’s probably true that at some level that every labor saving device (and communication device in particular) have increased the amount of lashon hara spoken (as well as the abiity to do chesed)
    I imagine that people will vote with their feet on this one as well and history will be reinterpreted to explain why.(BTW I am not on facebook)
    KT

  5. I agree with RHR and have long refused to use Facebook, et al. I also would argue that anyone whose depends heavily or exclusively on the Web simply to download Divrei Torah as opposed to engaging in serious Talmud Torah with a text is really not engaging in Talmud Torah in the fullest sense of the term.

  6. RJR-In his sicha R’Yehoshua emphasized that the phenomenon of Facebook is different and in many respects more dangerous than communication technologies that came before it.Hirhurim in the post laid out some of the more salient dangers/challenges. At the end of his sicha R’Yehoshua left us with some very disturbing thoughts:In the short span of one generation we have gone from the telephone to the P.C.internet to twitter to Facebook.Vus noch?? What is next?? how far will Homo Electronus go to divesting himself of the last vestiges of privacy and self respect? Has humanity itself become virtual? Can tzelem Elokim be preserved on Facebook and whatever comes next?

  7. R’DT,
    It should be interesting. BTW the whole virtual life thing has been on my mind for a while, it reminds me of both an old star trek episode and the role of the neshama in the body. We’ll see IY”H.
    KT

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