“What’s your position on Facebook?” my friend was asked at her daughter’s high school interview.
My friend, a computer-savvy and hands-on parent was prepared. “All of our computers are in an open public area with access to websites closely monitored. We also have an excellent filter in place and I have sole knowledge of the password.”
“Great,” responded the principal, as she scoured her list for the next question. Clearly they were done with this topic. But had they really covered it?
Of course, it’s important to supervise our children’s involvement with social media. But the reasons are deeper and more complex than the aforementioned principal and most of us recognize. It’s not just about predators. That’s the most sensational and frightening threat. There are no words to deal with the horror it invokes. But (I’m without statistics here but I’m sure my readers will set me right), I’m not sure the chances of an actual person-to-person encounter are that great. Yes, one is too many. But when one danger takes all our focus, we may miss more subtle or insidious risks.
I think that Facebook poses a serious threat to our character – in a few ways.
Another friend of mine told me that, for her contemporaries (closer to my age than high school!), Facebook has become a brag book, an opportunity to post about exotic vacations, fancy home remodels, and children’s college acceptances (it’s the traditional holiday letter on steroids!) - all under the innocent ruse of “just keeping you up-to-date, just sharing information.”
Not only does my friend suspect their motives but she laments how it affects her – her wonderful family trip now seems inadequate, her house too small and poorly furnished, her children’s academic achievements lackluster. The flame of jealousy has been ignited and fueled. Feelings of dissatisfaction are stoked as others chime in with their “I can beat yours” vacation and home stories. And, of course, with it the potential to put down this “fortunate” friend through slander…But that isn’t all.
The often overlooked consequence of posting every (or main) details of one’s life on Facebook is a loss of modesty, of dignity, of preservation of the inner self. If every idea, photo, experience, is shared with (hundreds of) friends, what remains of our inner core, our interior selves? Judaism teaches modesty as a way of being – not just in dress but in attitude. It’s how we speak – the tone, the words, the content. It’s how we carry ourselves. It’s how we guard what’s private, what’s special, what’s unique. It’s the sense that the life of the soul takes precedence over the life of the body. It’s the opposite of Facebook exposure.
Everyone else is sharing every deal; how can I not respond in kind? I confess to not having faced the challenge. I never go to the site. I’ve never friended or been friended by anyone (I think I still have a fulfilling life!). I haven’t experienced the thrill of contacting long-lost acquaintances or the ease of the instant advice on what to feed my kids for dinner.
I haven’t bragged about my last vacation (maybe if I could remember it I would) or read of anyone else’s with eager (and frustrated) longing. There are enough opportunities for jealousy without seeking out more.
I haven’t been put in a position where spilling personal details is de rigueur – and so easy to do. I haven’t faced the challenge so I don’t have all the solutions or strategies.
But I do know that when we have something special and precious, we want to preserve it. We put fences around our fancy homes and hide our fine jewelry in our safes. Fences help us avoid temptation.
We’re all at risk. Facebook encourages us to let down our guard. It rewards behavior that is the antithesis of the Jewish goal of modesty. The result is an unfortunate insensitivity to the idea of privacy and inner dignity. I’m afraid that may be the biggest risk of all to our children, and the one my friend’s principal was the least prepared to confront.