Jewish Values for Social Media in the Post-U.S. Election World
By Rabbi Arnie Samlan
Just over two years ago, I was invited to write a number of online articles that addressed Jewish values as they apply to our social media lives.
With the impact of social media on the recent U.S. elections, and the use of social media as a battle ground for a deeply divided country, I share my new version of the Ten Commandments for Social Media with guidance from Jewish teachings:
- “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.
- “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 weren’t counted, the election was skewed by large numbers of undocumented immigrants, and the now-famous Bowling Green terrorist incident, to name a few outright falsehoods that show up on my feeds).
- “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.
- 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…
- 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.
- “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.
- “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.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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 use our presence for life, for whatever land we live in, and for our world.
Rabbi Arnie Samlan is Executive Director of the Central Agency for Jewish Education in Broward County, Florida.