An interesting article raised the question of whether you may schedule e-mails or social media updates to occur on Shabbos (link). For example, I can post to my blog and schedule the post to appear on Friday night. Within an hour of that post’s publication, a third-party application Tweets the blog’s title, first few words and link to my personal Twitter account. And if I could ever get the technology to work properly, it would also post a link to my Facebook account. The next morning, at 5am on Shabbos, the application sends an e-mail of the full text of that blog post to this blog’s distribution list. Am I allowed to schedule all of this to happen on Shabbos?
The following are my tentative thoughts to begin discussion. As always, ask your rabbi and don’t follow what you read online. In all this discussion, we must keep in mind that at nearly all hours of the day, it is not Shabbos somewhere in the world. Someone reading the blog post or Tweet need not be violating Shabbos. For that matter, a gentile, who is not obligated to observe Shabbos, may also read it.
In the above example, some of the computer functions happen on Friday and some on Shabbos. The blog post is actually filed on Friday with an exact date and time of publication. If someone accesses the blog before the publication time, the computer holds back the post. After the publication time, it shows the post. Nothing really changes on Shabbos.
However, the social media functions happen on Shabbos. The third-party application learns about the post on Shabbos, grabs the information, submits it to Twitter and Facebook, compiles it into an e-mail and sends it out. Similarly, if I use an e-mail application that allows me to schedule an e-mail for Shabbos, it waits until the right time and then sends the e-mail out on Shabbos.
Truthfully, though, when a blog post appears on Shabbos it is captured by other third-party applications and registered in search engines. However, I do not control any of those applications and suggest that I am not liable for their activity.
II. Server Activity
Therefore, I suggest that scheduling a blog post for Shabbos does not cause any problem of computer activity. However, the social media actions may. As we discussed in an earlier post (link, sec. V), sending an e-mail on Shabbos, which becomes permanently stored on a server, may be biblically forbidden (under the labor of boneh). R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach forbade it regarding a floppy disk and others debate whether this ruling also applies to archives on servers.
The third-party application’s action is, in theory, indirect (gerama). I am just posting to my blog. The application then, on its own, grabs that information and submits it to social media platforms. However, I arranged these functions and want it to perform them. This is the normal way of doing things. Perhaps, then, this is not gerama but the normal course of business (see this post: link).
If Tweeting or sending an e-mail is biblically forbidden, then the case we are discussing would be comparable to setting a fax machine on a timer so it sends a fax on Shabbos. Piskei Teshuvos (Shabbos vol. 1, 242:7; vol. 2, 263:46) forbids such an action. However, the widespread custom is certainly to allow setting timers before to schedule forbidden activities to occur on Shabbos provided they do not generate noise or otherwise interfere with the Shabbos atmosphere (link). I suggest that the above activities qualify.
The final issue is one of maris ayin. While all observers are required to judge favorably and assume you did not violate any prohibitions, you are still obligated to avoid situations in which you appear to transgress Torah laws. The definition of precisely what this entails remains fuzzy. I was taught that it depends on what the average onlooker will initially think.
In the case of blogging or Tweeting on Shabbos, I suspect that we are still at the point where observers will suspect you of violating Shabbos. When people turn on their computers after Shabbos and see your updates that appeared on Shabbos, they will think you posted them on Shabbos. Scheduling is still a trick of the trade and insufficiently well known. However, disclaimers explaining the situation suffice.
All of the above refers to personal usage. If you are scheduling business updates for Shabbos, you run into the potential problem of Shabbason. Piskei Teshuvos (Shabbos vol. 2, 222:1) quotes the Chelkas Ya’akov who rules that allowing your business to run on Shabbos, even if you are not personally involved, entails a lack of resting. Your work needs to stop on Shabbos (see Rashi on Ex. 20:9 and Ramban on Lev. 23:24).
What is business? Blogs with advertisements are paid every time the blog is accessed. Is a Tweet directing readers to my blog considered business? Quite possibly.
V. Tentative Conclusion
Therefore, my initial reaction is that scheduling blog posts, Tweets, e-mails, etc. should only be done if it is for personal rather than business use and should include a disclaimer stating that it was scheduled before Shabbos.