Tag Archives: twitter

When is “Winning” in Social Media Going Too Far?

reed sea

Then Moses and the Children of Israel chose to sing this song to Hashem, and they said the following: I shall sing to Hashem for He is exalted above the arrogant, having hurled horse with its rider into the sea.

Exodus 15:1 Stone Edition Chumash

Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took her drum in her hand and all the women went forth after her with drums and with dances. Miriam spoke up to them, “Sing to Hashem for He is exalted above the arrogant, having hurled horse with its rider into the sea.”

Exodus 15:20-21 ibid

“How can you sing when my people are dying?”

Talmud Sanhedrin, 39b

I quoted from today’s Torah Portion and from Talmud as much as a lesson to myself as for others. I’m not speaking so much about celebrating or cheering when our enemies (or people we just don’t like) die, even a very deserving demise. I’m addressing how we cheer when we think we’ve trounced some else’s opinion particularly in the realm of social media including the blogosphere.

Believe me, I’m as guilty of this as anyone else.

But it occurs to me that at some point, when we attempt to champion our own cause at the detriment of someone else’s, we are trying to harm the other person.

Recently on Facebook (clicking that link will take you to an image some would find offensive so choose wisely) I engaged another person, someone in my local community who I used to work with, over the matter of women dressing up in vagina costumes for the national Women’s March of a weekend or two ago. To me, it looked incredibly degrading and seemed to be communicating that these “progressive” and “liberated” women saw themselves as nothing more than their genitals.

I believe they were actually responding to a comment attributed to Donald Trump which he made some years back (and which was recorded) about grabbing women by their “p*ssies which I indeed do find highly offensive.

However, I’m not sure that responding by dressing up as the object of Trump’s interest (as suggested by his comment) is the best way to protest and I said so.

Of course, I was accused of misunderstanding the symbolism involved and maybe even somehow denying these women the right to choose their own symbols.

We went back and forth a few times and then I dropped it (not everyone else did) figuring I’d made my point and people were free to disagree with me.

Did he “win” and I “lose” because I didn’t continue the “battle?” More importantly, if I had continued the exchange and if he became silent, should I have celebrated his “defeat?”

Just so you don’t misunderstand me, I do believe in standing up for morality and I believe vagina costumes and some of the language used by the women and men (yes, some men dressed up for the occasion as well) involved was offensive.

Now I know I can be accused of supporting the “Patriarchy” for that comment, as if I, as a religious male, have some sort of right to control the behavior of women. No, it’s not about control. I don’t “control” the behavior or dress of my wife and daughter (they’d explode if I even tried) and only exercise some control over my granddaughter’s choice of apparel because she’s just two-and-a-half.

Women are free to wear whatever they choose and to behave in any manner they desire (short of breaking the law or otherwise causing harm), but in this nation of free speech rights, I can choose to express my opinion on what I think is acceptable and unacceptable behavior from men and women based on my moral and ethical values. I would also object to men protesting while wearing “penis” hats (my friend said somewhere on Facebook that the Washington Monument is a giant penis symbol which I find kind of ridiculous since not everything that is taller than it is wide is a penis).

women's march 2018
Photo: Carolyn Cole, TNS – Found at Detroit Free Press

If I were a better person, I probably wouldn’t get into these debates at all since long and bitter experience has taught me that they do absolutely no good in changing anyone’s mind.

And yet, if no one objects to offensive and ludicrous imagery and symbolism, that amounts to tacit acceptance and agreement.

How far can we go in objecting before we find ourselves driven to metaphorically “kill” the person with whom we disagree?

For more, read Mrs. Lori Palatnik’s article When Evil Falls. It doesn’t directly address my point, but it is illuminating nonetheless.

Attack Dogs

Jennifer Bristol recently lost one of her oldest friends—thanks to a Facebook fight about pit bulls.

The trouble started when she posted a newspaper article asserting that pit bulls were the most dangerous type of dog in New York City last year. “Please share thoughts… 833 incidents with pitties,” wrote Ms. Bristol, a 40-year-old publicist and animal-welfare advocate in Manhattan.

Her friends, many of whom also work in the animal-welfare world, quickly weighed in. One noted that “pit bull” isn’t a single official breed; another said “irresponsible ownership” is often involved when dogs turn violent. Black Labs may actually bite more, someone else offered.

Then a childhood pal of Ms. Bristol piped up with this: “Take it from an ER doctor… In 15 years of doing this I have yet to see a golden retriever bite that had to go to the operating room or killed its target.”

That unleashed a torrent…

“It was ridiculous,” says Ms. Bristol, who stayed out of the fight. Her old buddy, the ER doctor, unfriended her the next morning. That was eight months ago. She hasn’t heard from him since.

-Elizabeth Bernstein
“Why We Are So Rude Online (October 1, 2012)
The Wall Street Journal

People can have diverse opinions. They can have different personalities. They can have different goals and objectives. Even so, they can choose to interact in peaceful ways, and discuss their differences with mutual respect. At times they will work out solutions to their mutual satisfaction, and at times they will not. Nevertheless, they can be calm, and think clearly about the wisest course to take.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Disagree Respectfully”
Today’s Daily Lift, #586

I recently posted a meditation about this very topic, and having to take the extreme action of banning someone from commenting on my blog. While I suppose I could assign the “blame” for the whole difficult experience to the person in question, in fact, the subject of Elizabeth Bernstein’s news article deserves some “credit.”

Why are people so rude online? People will say all kinds of things to other people online that they’d never dream of saying (most of the time) in person. Part of me is amazed that this tendency spills over into the religious blogosphere, but then, I find religious people possess just as wide a variety of character traits (and flaws) as the general population, rudeness included.

One of the reasons for online rudeness cited in Bernstein’s story is anonymity. When you can hide behind a fake screen name and avatar, there’s no sense of personal accountability because your statements aren’t easily traced back to your actual identity (nevermind that we’re not as anonymous as we think online, particularly on Facebook, or to someone with sufficient technical skills). There’s even a suggestion that the effect of being online reduces our inhibitions in the same way as alcohol.

Most of us present an enhanced image of ourselves on Facebook. This positive image—and the encouragement we get, in the form of “likes”—boosts our self-esteem. And when we have an inflated sense of self, we tend to exhibit poor self-control.

“Think of it as a licensing effect: You feel good about yourself so you feel a sense of entitlement,” says Keith Wilcox, assistant professor of marketing at Columbia Business School and co-author of the study. “And you want to protect that enhanced view, which might be why people are lashing out so strongly at others who don’t share their opinions.” These types of behavior—poor self control, inflated sense of self—”are often displayed by people impaired by alcohol,” he adds.

A sense of entitlement, boosting poor self-esteem, reducing self-control, I don’t think this just happens to people who use Facebook.

The Bernstein article also states that, according to Sherry Turkle, psychologist and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor of the social studies of science and technology, our inhibitions are lowered because we can’t see the reactions of the people we’re addressing with our comments. Because we can’t “see and focus on what we have in common, we tend to dehumanize each other,” Dr. Turkle states.

I’ve heard there are two topics that can guarantee you will immediately become involved in an enraged conversation, both online and in-person: politics and religion. Here’s an example of both happening at the same time:

Over the past few months, Mr. Bolcik lost two real-life friends because of online political spats. The first friend got mad at him after he posted a status update asking people to debate whether Mormons are Christians. (“You are so off base you don’t know what you are talking about,” she wrote on his page, followed later by: “You’re an idiot.”) Mr. Bolcik blocked her from his page. “I will allow free discussion until you irritate me,” he says. Sometimes, he erases entire conversation threads.

Cause, effect, and consequence all rolled up into a single paragraph. Post something controversial on your blog, or on Facebook, twitter, or some other social networking platform. Someone will invariably react rudely or even in a (verbally) violent matter. Then, as Mr. Bolcik stated, “I will allow free discussion until you irritate me.” And I’ve also seen people eliminate entire conversations on Facebook before.

Sometimes a “battle” will start between two people and then others will be dragged into it, sort of like calling up reinforcements:

…he says—he privately messages one of his “attack dog” friends and suggests he or she join the discussion. “I will say, ‘Gee, this discussion doesn’t seem right to me, what do you think?’ ” he says. “Then they will go on there and berate the person who is upsetting me, and I will look like the good guy.”

Taken to an extreme, this could be sort of like a miniaturized version of a flash mob, at least if you have a popular blog and a lot of online friends with similar points of view and an equal capacity for responding aggressively.

Most of us don’t have really popular blogs (I mean thousands or even tens of thousands of regular readers) or very large numbers of online associates who are willing to fly into a rage at a moment’s notice, but we can marshal what resources we have to be, if not a menace, then at least a nudnik.

What can be done about this unfortunate tendency to lose our sense of compassion and courtesy once we sit down in front of a keyboard (or when we are on our mobile) and start browsing various social networking venues? It’s no secret and I suppose the answer is what we euphemistically refer to as “common sense.”

Stop being rude. Exercise self-control. Speak with humility. Most importantly, if you are a religious person, behave consistently with your stated values.

Learn to disagree without creating an unpleasant argument.

A mature disagreement is when two people both listen carefully to the other’s position in order to understand the position and why the person feels that way.

The Torah obligates us to treat each person with respect – even if you disagree.

I’m not sure Rabbi Pliskin is basing his commentary on Internet conversations, but I certainly hope so. It would mean that there’s hope for those of us in the religious online space, and that we are not condemned by our human nature or the dynamics of web communications to behave like a group of jackasses.

Religious people present themselves, their faith, and their God online and, especially Christians, say stuff like, “Jesus is the answer.” Then when someone disagrees, the religious person proceeds to call their opponent every name in the book except a “child of God.”

“There was a time when I used to say: that man’s a Turk, or a Bulgar, or a Greek. I’ve done things for my country that would make your hair stand on end, boss. I’ve cut people’s throats, burned villages, robbed and raped women, wiped out entire families. Why? Because they were Bulgars, or Turks. ‘Bah! To hell with you, you swine!’ I say to myself sometimes. ‘To hell with you right away, you ass.’ Nowadays I say this man is a good fellow, that one’s a bastard. They can be Greeks or Bulgars or Turks, it doesn’t matter. Is he good? Or his he bad? That’s the only thing I ask nowadays. As I grow older – I’d swear this on the last crust I eat – I feel I shan’t even go on asking that! Whether a man’s good or bad, I’m sorry for him, for all of ’em. The sight of a man just rends my insides, even if I act as though I don’t care a damn! There he is, poor devil, I think; he also eats and drinks and makes love and is frightened, whoever he is: he has his God and his devil just the same, and he’ll peg out and lie as stiff as a board beneath the ground and be food for worms, just the same. Poor devil! We’re all brothers! All worm meat.”

-Nikos Kazantzakis from his novel
“Zorba the Greek”

We can do this better. We need to do this better. Angry religious people are not just discrediting themselves, they are dragging God’s Name and reputation through the mud along with them. We can either sanctify the Name of the Holy One or desecrate it. It’s your choice. It’s my choice. What will you do next time you read something on Facebook, twitter, or on someone’s blog (or a comment on your own blog) and then feel the anger rise within you like an enraged, blazing Phoenix boiling and then vaporizing the calm, cool waters of your spirit?