muse: n. a source of inspiration

We are more than our tweets

(cross posted from Solomon Schechter of Metropolitan Chicago’s blog)

We post, we share, and we judge . . .

When I was in 7th grade, the big thing (today we would say “trending”) was to have a slam book. A slam book was a simple device: nothing more than a spiral-bound notebook with a different girl’s name written at the top of each page. As the book was passed around, you just left an anonymous comment beneath a name. Some comments were nice, some were just innocuous and some, of course, were mean. Cloaked in anonymity, we felt that it would be okay to say whatever we wanted with no fear of repercussion.

Of course, a slam book came to its demise when a teacher got hold of it. The posts disappeared into the garbage, existing only in the memory of the children who had seen or written them. And, while memory can be powerful, those comments were destined to fade over time.

Social media today is in many ways an immortal slam book. There are differences: anonymity isn’t always guaranteed and even deleted posts or comments can still be found. The biggest difference, of course, is the unbelievable reach those posts have. The slam book of my junior high years was a real, physical thing that could only be seen by so many people at one time and could only be in one place at a time. Social media posts today can go viral in an instant and reach hundreds or thousands of people in mere seconds.

We know this and we try to teach our children about the need to think before one posts. To use everything that they’ve learned about being a good person and about Jewish values before one hits send. And I think we generally do a good job at this.

What is scarier to me is how easy it is to judge others in the world of viral social media, and how quickly one can be tried and convicted in 140 characters or fewer. How good a job are we doing at teaching our children to think about the human being – with all his or her flaws – behind the tweet?

In 2013, Justine Sacco, then the senior director of corporate communications at the media/Internet company IAC, stupidly tweeted a joke before boarding a flight to South Africa to visit family. There’s no question about it, the tweet was dumb one associating AIDS with non-whites. She shouldn’t have tweeted it. She made a really irresponsible mistake. She also only had around 170 Twitter followers, so the chance of it getting around was slim. Unfortunately, the offending tweet was picked up and shared by someone who had over 15,000 Twitter followers. It got around.

By the time Sacco landed in South Africa she had lost her job with IAC. The tweet had gone viral, and Sacco was publicly tried and found guilty by the Twitter community. This 30-year-old woman’s career had abruptly come to an end while she sat unaware on a flight.

Was that fair? Who are we to judge? And should her rash tweet get her fired?

I really don’t know if she should have lost her job and if her career should suffer because of this error. I do know, however, that she never had a chance to speak for herself or to even face her accusers.

Our own tradition has plenty to say about judging others. We’re taught to “tip the scale” in another’s favor, and see if someone’s misdeeds are outweighed by his or her virtues (Pirkei Avot 1:6). Unfortunately, social media seems to be faster at weighing misdeeds!

Certainly, we teach our children that you shouldn’t post anything that you wouldn’t be proud to tell your grandmother or put on a billboard, since you never know who or how many people might read your words. But the flipside of the lesson is also important, and I think it’s one we may sometimes neglect to acknowledge. There is a person behind and in front of every Facebook post, every Instagram photo, and every tweet. They are people with feelings. They’re people who had a bad day. People who used bad judgment. And they are not just their tweets.


March 4, 2015 Posted by | Social Technologies | | Leave a comment

Who cares?

The JTA publishes a list of 100 influential Jewish tweeters – just came out.

Recently there was a tweet asking for suggestions for a list of great women tweeters. I believe the word “influential” was used as well.

Got me to thinking…

What makes a tweet great? What makes a tweeter influential?

The JTA (and I certainly don’t mean to pick on the JTA…) shows you how they came to their conclusion here. Numbers, data…

How do we really gauge influence? Do we really think that we can distill it down to a bunch of numbers? Followers? Links passed along? God forbid – number of tweets?

I’m a huge believer in social media, Internet networking, Twitter, electronic communication, blogging… all that stuff.

I love to gather links and pass them along to my colleagues.

But I’m not sure about the whole influential thing.

What does that mean?

In the final analysis, I believe that influence means you had an impact on someone; helped them change, got them to think about something in a new way… And I think we’re fooling ourselves if we think that tweeting will do that.

Recently I got a Facebook message from a former student who told me that she wouldn’t have gotten through middle school if it hadn’t been for me.

Now that’s influence.

And nary a tweet was heard.

Just sayin’

January 6, 2011 Posted by | Just sayin', Social Technologies, Twitter | , , , | Leave a comment

Social media transforming the way synagogues, members connect

Interesting article about synagogues using new technologies…

via cu @ temple: Social media transforming the way synagogues, members connect | j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California.

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January 9, 2010 Posted by | Community, Social Technologies | , , , | Leave a comment

… “then I click what?”

I just read about a new social network for, well, old Jews. By old I mean 50+, which makes me one of them. It’s called GenKvetch.


I’ve certainly always been the first to encourage my colleagues and friends to check out and embrace new technology. And I appreciate that, for some, Facebook might seem a little intimidating. And I’m sure that Facebook has features which don’t appeal to older people, like “what kind of bong are you?” or whatever.

But, still, I have a problem with a segregated social network. Especially one targeted at the older generation.

Why? Well, for the same reason that I love Facebook and encourage people to use it. Facebook is inclusive, and I love that I can see my children’s photos. I love that my former students friend me. I love that synagogues use it to publicize events. And that’s all inclusive – the best of a social network.

I guess I don’t understand why we need yet another social network. Why not just form groups on Facebook?

My prediction – GenKvetch (and I actually really object to the name, as well) is gone in a year.

Perhaps I’m just being a curmudgeon – or a kvetch, as it were…

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June 9, 2009 Posted by | Social Technologies | | Leave a comment

Do you read? Do you own books?

You do? Really?

Then you should check out (ha ha) LibraryThing. You can use it to catalog your books (you can enter up to 200 books for free, after that there’s a pretty modest fee) and use it to perform search functions or get recommendations for other books.

You can also use it to find other people with similar tastes and find out what they’re reading.

This is an excellent example of social networking software used for a really cool purpose.

November 15, 2007 Posted by | Social Technologies, Tools | Leave a comment


I have a Facebook account. There, I’ve said it.

I set it up a while ago because one of my daughters has one. She posts a lot of photos to it and I enjoy going there and seeing them. I have a few friends from college that I keep contact with there, and a few new acquaintances too.

Yesterday I got a friend request from a former student. She’s a freshman in high school now and it looks like she was adding a whole bunch of kids with whom she graduated (but who are going to different high schools – the bane of a day school education) so that she can keep in touch with him.

At first I thought that was weird. She’s not my “friend,” she’s a former student and a high school freshman to boot.

But then I thought about what it means to be someone’s friend on Facebook. To keep in touch, to see what’s going on in someone’s life, to get snippets of what they’re up to…

I accepted. And I’ve decided I’m flattered.

August 18, 2007 Posted by | Social Technologies | Leave a comment

Use those social networks!

Okay – it’s official. The National School Boards Association wants your kids to use social networks.

From Tech.Blorge:

“…Social networking may be advantageous to students — and there could already be a double standard at work. 37% of districts say at least 90% of their staff are participating in online communites of their own — related to education — and 59% of districts said that at least half were participating. “These findings indicate that educators find value in social networking,” the study notes, “and suggest that many already are comfortable and knowledgeable enough to use social networking for educational purposes with their students.”

So let’s hear from folks who have created those FaceBook pages and are interacting with their kids that way!

August 8, 2007 Posted by | Social Technologies | Leave a comment

Social Technologies and Jewish Education

I’ve been researching social web communities for a presentation I’m making to the Chicago Regional CAJE Conference in February and was thinking about some ways that they could be used by Jewish educators. For instance, I just created a wiki at and would like educators to have their students add information about their Jewish communities. But think about how this model could extend to other topics; text discussion, book reviews…

Some of the other social technology elements of the new read/write Web that I’m exploring:

Social communities: MySpace, facebook, linkedin – all of these are just ways for people to connect with one another; share photos, etc. MySpace is popular among the middle school/high school kids; facebook for high school/college and linkedin is for the business world. Essentially they’re all networks; communities.

Flickr – people sharing photos. Go to and do a search for Jewish. Incredible what you’ll see. And check out the groups – there are 253 groups that have “Jewish” in the name.

Itunes – podcasting. We’re going to be uploading podcasts of Hebrew texts that our bible and rabbinics teachers are assigning for reading homework. Our hope is that the less capable readers will download the reading and listen to it while reading the text which will provide them with support while encouraging our strong readers to exercise their reading skills by recording the podcasts.

For the most part, as educators, we’re pretty wary of these technologies and not exactly embracing them. In some cases (MySpace), we’re really scared of them and the potential damage when used by the wrong people. But we’re missing the boat here! The web is moving from a delivery-only system to a real-time conversations.

What I’d love to see is a web portal for the Jewish educational community with places for Jewish educators to share activities (but there are lots of places where you can do that already) as well as easily edited pages for immediate web conversations. Take Wikipedia. Wikipedia is the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. What if we used the Wikipedia model for Jewish content? And had a place where classes could add their content as well? Gave educators a space for their own blog for Sunday school?

October 6, 2006 Posted by | Jewish, Social Technologies | Leave a comment


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