A few years ago, during one of the fabulous Grade 4 Novel Study plays, the character Dorothy expressed dismay at being stuck in Oz: “There’s no Wi-Fi,” she proclaimed. “How can I manage without my social media?!”
Social media is such a part of modern life it is no surprise to find mention of it surfacing in a script written by 9-year olds, even if those children themselves are not (we hope) using Facebook, Instagram, etc. Social media helps adults stay connected, find like-minded friends, and share links of mutual interest. But social media also has some serious down-sides, and one of those is connected to this week’s parshah.
In Parshat Metzora, we learn how a person afflicted with leprosy must remove him or herself from the camp and perform a healing ceremony before returning to the community. Leprosy was a highly contagious disease that needed to be contained. Elsewhere in the Torah, it is associated with lashon hara—the spreading of rumours and other forms of harmful speech. Like leprosy, lashon hara is highly contagious. There is something about human nature that is prone to assuming rumours to be true, and spreading the word. Perhaps it comforts us to imagine we are part of the group “in the know;” maybe it helps us feel connected to one another. Social media allows the contagion of lashon hara to spread at an exponential rate, causing anxiety and accelerating upset. For whatever reason, bad news can be more contagious than good news.
Lashon hara is a major concern of many Jewish thinkers. The most well known—the Chofez Chayyim wrote:
“Even if one has already heard the lashon hara, it is forbidden to believe it. On the contrary, one should always judge one’s fellow favourably.”
While the advice of the Chofetz Chayyim might seem overly simplistic, I believe the message he sought to convey is that assuming the best rather than the worst is a good way to contain the contagion of lashon hara. There are many wonderful ways to use social media to disseminate useful information, share nachas, and stay connected. Sometimes, it’s also good just to turn it off, take a break, and return to the camp of the community that talks “unmediated” around the table.