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Home Judaism Moses’ 6 Commandments for Facebook

Moses’ 6 Commandments for Facebook

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{Originally posted to the Aish website}

With 2 billion users, Facebook is an incredible tool for connecting humanity. Yet social media also feeds depression and addiction – downsides so widely acknowledged that Facebook itself asks: “Is Spending Time on Social Media Bad for Us?”

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Facebook’s business model is simple: Consumers provide a unique data trail – birthday, address, marital status, travelogue, career, purchasing habits, social contacts, likes, dislikes, and even what we ate for lunch – and Facebook feeds up steady shots of dopamine in the form of generating reaction.

Sean Parker, Facebook’s founding president, says that Facebook’s advanced artificial intelligence exploits a “vulnerability in human psychology” and manipulates our brains – cleverly hooking us ever-more deeply based on our own choices and behavior.

Today, with over 90% of 16-24 year olds using social networks, and technology ever-more “wearable” and ubiquitous, the problem compounds.

Although Moses obviously never encountered social media, ancient Torah wisdom is replete with Divine guidance for best navigating Facebook – a new twist on millennia-old human psychology. As received on Sinai, here are Moses’ 6 Rules for Facebook:

1. Positive Posts

Leviticus 25:17 – “Do not aggrieve your fellow man.”

A Facebook page can be a vehicle for unity, building and healing, or the opposite – division and destruction. We’ve all seen the ugly side of Facebook: petty pointless debates, intolerance, gossip, abuse and bullying. Worse than the sword, a nasty Facebook post harms multiple people at great distance – contributing to misunderstandings, social divide, tension, even war.

The Torah definition of derogatory speech – Loshon Hara – refers to anything that arouses animosity, even when the derogatory statement is true. Harming someone with words (Onas Devarim) is considered worse than harming their property. Never embarrass someone by publicly pointing out faults, using an insulting nickname, or recalling past mistakes.

Apply the Facebook litmus test: Does this post raise others up, or put them down?

Before posting or reading, apply the Facebook litmus test: Does this post raise others up, or put them down? Lowering another’s esteem – even with no intent to harm – is an ethical penalty flag.

The problem of negative speech is even more pronounced in our digital age, with instantaneous global communication and a record rarely erased. When you post online, it essentially remains forever. Even if you delete it, Wayback machines and screen captures ensure that the digital trail is never fully erased. So before posting or even liking, ask yourself:

  • Is this something that might be embarrassing in the future?
  • Is there anyone who is demeaned by this post?
  • Is this an unflattering reflection on the person I aspire to be?

Keep your posts positive. Applaud genuine achievement and the commitment to values. Do your part to raise the collective bar.

2. Digital Detox

Exodus 20:8-11 – “Work for six days, then observe Shabbat.”

Facebook is designed to be addicting by administering consistent doses of dopamine. The British Royal Society for Public Health identified social media as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol. (Imagine smoking every time you check your feed!)

Having grown addicted to social media, we’re afraid to cut the chord, gripped by fear of missing out (FOMO).

How to break free?

The key is regularly-scheduled breaks to:

  1. Gain perspective.
  2. Re-engage fully with the real world.
  3. Reaffirm that Facebook is something you can live without.

History’s tried and true counter-mechanism is Shabbat. For 25 hours, you are officially off the grid. Commitment to this Shabbat break, as defined by Torah, is far stronger than any commitment to Facebook.

Consider Shabbat as an empowering, Divinely-ordained weekly Digital Detox.

3. Limit Visual Consumption

Numbers 15:39 – “Don’t stray after your heart and eyes.”

Of the five senses, eyesight accounts for 80% of our sensory stimulation. What you see dictates your experience.

Just as we are careful about what we put in our mouths, we must also choose wisely the images we see. With today’s media saturated with provocative images, we have endless opportunities to reaffirm “guard your eyes” as one of the Six Constant Mitzvot.

Next time you’re scrolling Facebook, ask yourself: Am I choosing high or low? Do I need this in my life?

If dehumanizing content does appear, take the power back into your hands. Make the pro-active choice not to engage or click.

4. Develop Internal Validation

Genesis 1:27 – “Man was created in the image of God.”

Everyone needs validation that their life has value, importance, and meaning. Emotionally healthy people generate this validation internally. To rely on external sources – a “fan base” – is a recipe for personal disaster. Rabbi Noah Weinberg zt”l calls it “counterfeit self-esteem,” because when the accolades are gone, we’re left with nothing.

Pursuit of external validation is to be seduced by the “grandeur” of fake accolades. The catastrophic result: Relinquishing control of my self-esteem to others.

Pursuit of external validation is being seduced by the “grandeur” of fake accolades.

“Created in the image of God” means that we each have inherent worth and a unique mission in the world. There never was, nor will there ever be, another person with your combination of talents and circumstances.

Genuine self-esteem is when we look inside and honestly attempt to fulfill our potential. Life is not a competition against anyone but yourself. Public recognition does not matter.

When your only concern is doing the right thing, you freely express yourself in the most genuine and uninhibited way. When self-esteem is not dependent on outside approval, you’ll choose the right thing, regardless of it being popular or politically correct. All that matters is living your truth.

Think about this the next time you have the urge to post a “my life is fabulous” photo on Facebook. Instead, post something genuine, uplifting, meaningful. Though it may not gain you the same social cred, every “like” is another step toward contributing your best energy and vision into the world.

5. Envy and Comparison

Exodus 20:14 – “Do not covet what belongs to others.”

Numerous studies correlate time on Facebook with high levels of anxiety and depression. We scroll through curated posts of people’s seemingly perfect lives – happy relationships, gorgeous homes and amazing vacations – bemoaning that we aren’t as happy or fulfilled.

Psychology Today offers the following scenario:

Let’s say a friend posts a picture of her meal from a work lunch at a fancy restaurant with the comment, “Paté for lunch at Café Glamorous. Work is sooo hard 🙂 #roughlife.”

You may know she hates everything about her job – and even that she hates paté – but that doesn’t mean you don’t experience a flash of jealousy. You compare the fact that she gets to have lunch at a fancy restaurant, while you consume Lean Cuisine in your cubicle – rather than comparing the reality that she is miserable in her job while you actually kind of enjoy yours.

That’s because that friend is selectively self-presenting only the Café Glamorous moments in her life on Facebook rather than bemoaning her 14-hour work days, miserable boss, petty co-workers, and pittance of a salary. Rather than weighing all that you know about her work situation and feeling sorry for her, you can’t resist drooling over the paté and feeling envious.

This malady of “compare and despair” feeds a feeling of less attractive, popular, successful, or enviable. And though Facebook posts are embellished with incomplete or inaccurate information, we take them at face value and end up suffering the stress of “negative social comparisons.”

Envy is poison. Stop competing. Focus instead on your unique contribution to the harmonious voice of compassionate humanity.

6. Be a True Friend

Leviticus 19:18 – “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The foundation of Torah is the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you want them to do unto you.” Go out of your way to help others.

The nature of Facebook, however, is distanced and impersonal – an isolated world within a world. Fight this online substitute by using social media to push you further into the reality, not away from it. Focus on helping others and being a true friend, one who feels the pain of others, takes joy in others’ success, and goes out of the way lend a hand.

Like all other tools, Facebook is not inherently good or bad. It’s a matter of how we use it.

Stay focused on these Torah guidelines and help ensure a positive Facebook experience.

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Rabbi Shraga Simmons holds a degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin, and rabbinic ordination from the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. In 1997 he became the founding editor of Aish.com, and later the founder and director of the Torah study website, JewishPathways.com He currently serves as the Director of Aish Communications, handling all marketing, public relations and media activities for Aish HaTorah International. He lives with his wife and children in the Modi'in region of Israel.
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