Two Ethical Problems with Facebook

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I joined Facebook (as I was recently reminded on an un-posted automated anniversary video) in 2007 in order to connect with students all over North America for a non-profit’s marketing department. I stayed on Facebook after I left that job because it was a convenient way to track old friends’ lives without the hassle of remembering to call them for an update (you know you relate!). I still peruse Facebook regularly- primarily for those same photo updates that keep me feeling connected to long-lost friends and family.

It’s nice to see that you just had a baby or what you ate for lunch and I usually enjoy the pearl-of-wisdom cliche or funny observational meme. I can tolerate the extreme opinions that posters feel necessary to publicize and though I’ve tried to remove myself from long threads of lively conversation that often deteriorates into personal insult, I admire when the controversy stays clean and unemotional.

I have no plans at this point to close my Facebook account for the reasons above and more but I do feel compelled to call out two big moral dilemmas users of Facebook may share with me. Like many (all?) things in life, Facebook can be used for good or bad. To me, here’s the very bad that hasn’t been outed officially (Facebook bullying, in contrast, has drawn plenty recent attention thankfully).

1. Many, many users opt to use their walls as bragging rights for a great relationship, career, or body. Brandished #Fakebook by an insightful blogger years ago,  Facebook still consistently serves up everybody’s great news and filtered pictures. Does a a long fluffy post dedicated to a “fabulous” spouse not cheapen a marriage? Even if it doesn’t, how are singles struggling to find Mr/Mrs Right supposed to feel when they read such posts? How about someone in a difficult marriage? Same applies to the  posts and pictures of children (mea culpa).

There’s an idea in Judaism called “evil eye” which is often defined as a superstition but the true meaning of an evil eye is a pair of eyes watching us and wondering “Why does S/HE get that, but I don’t?”. Truth is, everything in our lives- the health, the family, the prosperity- it’s all a gift and none of us deserves it.  Bragging on Facebook is purposely attracting attention for our undeserved blessings and that attention can turn negative- a dangerous prospect.

I don’t propose anything extreme- just perhaps an added dose of sensitivity (I’m talking to myself as much as to you) about posting lovey-dovey statuses and super adorable pictures. We can sometimes choose to keep pictures private (gasp!) or at least we can temper statuses into something mildly more modest.

2. I thoroughly enjoy debate- sometimes and under the right conditions. Assuming all parties are respectful and intellectually honest – no small feat- debate is a very worthwhile and Jewish endeavor. Problems brew when names are mentioned of any kind since invariably someone will post a negative comment in which case:

a. The person who mentioned the name originally is responsible for Avak Lashon Hara, the brand of negative speech that start with an “innocent” remark but provokes malicious responses.

b. The people reading the negative/destructive comments and possibly believing them.

c. The one commenting negatively.

Facebook, and the internet for that matter, may be an open exchange of information but we are responsible to put fences up, for our own dignity and humanity’s sake. I’ve seen wonderful people (who I obviously won’t name) getting character assassinations on Facebook by posters who are otherwise very nice themselves. We all make mistakes, is it necessary to publicly analyze even leaders in this forum? It’s a no-holds-barred zone and the viciousness I’ve seen on Facebook in the name of “intellectual debate” is unparalleled.

This is food for thought directed as much at myself as it is to you. I wrote an article recently that I took down because I was asked to- and the reason I chose to delete an article I worked hard on is because, ultimately, I want my blog to impact positively. If there’s even a chance it would do the opposite, I’d rather not publish anything.

Ultimately, the choice is ours like all mediums in life, how are we going to use this? Are we really thinking carefully before we hit “post”?

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