Is online shaming digital vigilantism or constructive social work? That’s a question addressed in a new directive from the Tzohar Rabbincal Organziation.
Online shaming is a dangerous weapon that can ruin lives, acknowledges Tzohar Ethics Committee Director Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, but it can also be harnessed for constructive purposes, he argues.
With the explosion of social media in recent years and the proliferation of digital images and information anyone with an axe to grind – from scorned lovers to disgruntled customers or jealous schoolmates – can turn someone’s life upside down, often while maintaining anonymity.
Due to the ubiquitousness of the internet, online shaming is no longer the nuisance it once was, but a potentially deadly ability to destroy lives, ruin relationships, end careers – or in extreme cases even drive victims to take their own lives.
Yet for all of the evils of online shaming, it is possible to use its tremendous potential for good, argues Rabbi Cherlow.
Get deniers, for instance – men who refuse to grant their wives a Jewish divorce and thus prevent them from remarrying – are a clear example, explains Rabbi Cherlow.
“Online shaming can be both extremely detrimental, sometimes even deadly, but can also force positive change as in the case of get deniers,” said Cherlow.
Given the slippery nature of shaming campaigns and the ambiguity often involved, Tzohar has released a series of guidelines for cases where shaming is both appropriate and useful.
Some of the basic guidelines include the need to verify that information publicized is true, and to ensure that all other possible avenues have been attempted.
While approving of online shaming in certain cases, Cherlow notes that one must be extremely careful, even when it is permitted.
“It is critical to remember that in Jewish law even evildoers - like get refusers - are afforded a certain level of benefit and compassion so that while we must work to ensure justice, we need to do everything possible to ensure the damage is not beyond what is necessary.”