Social media can be a wonderful tool for informing, encouraging, educating, and so on. It can also be a tool of destruction. Far too often stories which have no basis in reality or truth are posted and the emotional response of those who read the posting spread it like wildfire and the damage to an individual’s reputation or a company’s brand is immeasurable and permanent.
There seems to be an increase in the posting of stories containing untruthful allegations. I detest anti-Semitism and will always rise up against it. However, when the allegations are not true I will say so. Many of my fellow Jews see the defense of an individual or corporation who has been falsely accused of anti-Semitism as a form of disloyalty. The replies to a posting clarifying the truth about a lie being told are horrendous. Name calling, questioning of one’s commitment our people, and so on and so forth. It’s heartbreaking to read the comments of emotionally distressed people especially when their distress is founded in falsehood.
Last week there were many postings on various social media sites alleging Forever 21 stores were selling jewelry embellished with Nazi symbols. There was a picture of the item on a placard with Forever 21 printed across the top. For the most part the people posting the story did not attempt to authenticate the story before slapping it up for all the world to see on social media. The firestorm that followed was as expected. Forever 21 became a Jew-hating, Nazi-loving liberal corporation over night. But……..they weren’t guilty of the allegations. They were the victim of someone needing attention and desiring to stir up a controversy. How sad and mean to make a conscious choice to post a false story for millions to read with no thought of the damage which would follow.
There were a few Jews, myself included, who offered a defense of Forever 21. I spoke with their media department. I also spoke with a local store and their legal department. I searched the story and found several denials from Forever 21 and a comprehensive story debunking the allegations. Some of our fellow Jews removed the story though they could not undo the damage. Others remained obstinate their source was reliable and they weren’t going to remove the posting. To them I shared some thoughts on the damage they were doing and offered they may not be so happy when the same or similar is done to them. They seemed unmoved.
Before I get too far along allow me to reiterate the fact I will stand up to anti-Semitism wherever and whenever I encounter it. I have no problem doing so and that will never change as long as I am alive. The same applies to those who irresponsibly share lies and false stories in attempt to “get the scoop”, “be the first to tell”, and other such rationalizations.
Rashi taught that man having been created in the image of G-d, anything that disparages man is disparaging G-d as well. Through Chilul Hashem, disgrace is brought to the Divine Name. Chilul Hashem is one of the greatest sins in the Torah. Conversely, kiddush Hashem is sanctifying the Divine Name. As Jews, our behavior should always be in such a manner as to merit the respect of not only our people but other people as well.
When we spread lies and make false allegations we cause disrepute on ourselves, our people, and our G-d. G-d forbid we should ever do this. We have been blessed to be Jews and as such we should live in manner which sanctifies the Divine Name rather than vilifying through careless and irresponsible words and actions. G-d forbid we should act in such a manner.
Yes we should always stand up to hate against our people and hate in general. And we should always be very scrupulous in all our words and deeds and relationships to avoid bringing dishonor to G-d and our people. In responding to the false allegations against Forever 21 I shared a story from our sages. It bears repeating:
A man went about the community telling malicious lies about the rabbi. Later, he realized the wrong he had done, and began to feel remorse. He went to the rabbi and begged his forgiveness, saying he would do anything he could to make amends. The rabbi told the man, “Take a feather pillow, cut it open, and scatter the feathers to the winds.” The man thought this was a strange request, but it was a simple enough task, and he did it gladly. When he returned to tell the rabbi that he had done it, the rabbi said, “Now, go and gather the feathers. Because you can no more make amends for the damage your words have done than you can recollect the feathers.”
May we be blessed to keep our feathers in the bag when the only thing they will accomplish by being scattered is to bring dishonor to ourselves, our people, and our G-d.