Feb 21, 2011

Those Killer Comments

There is a new English, free, newspaper being distributed around a number of cities of Israel, called the Voice. The paper is part of the 5 Towns Jewish Times family of newspapers. I picked up a copy of the first edition this past week, and it was pretty interesting, with good articles.

There was one article in particular that caught my attention, and I have since found it on the 5 Towns Jewish Times website. It is the article by Rav Aryeh  Z Ginzberg entitled "Those Killer Comments". In the article Rabbi Ginzberg calls to task anonymous bloggers and commenters (he uses the word "commentators" - I am not sure if someone who leaves a comment on a blog is a commenter or a commentator), for writing with a "level of hate" and even outright cruelty. He says they hide behind their anonymity and take advantage of it to speak harshly, in a way that Jews by nature do not speak. He calls them (us?) digital rotzchim, and while he admits that there are surely bigger issues in Judaism to worry about,  this is an embarrassing and hurtful phenomenon that must be abandoned.

Some people have taken great offense at Rav Ginzberg's article. They look at it as if he is trying to shut everyone up so they can continue running the show, so to speak, and being the one's to determine what is discussed and how it is discussed in the public forum, ensuring that nothing against the establishment and authority figures will be said with any strength.

There might be something to this, but I don't think he is calling for anything so sinister. And even if that is his intention in his greater picture, I think we can take his micro point in the article and improve ourselves. Just because there are greater issues in Judaism that need to be fixed, and surely there are, that does not mean that we should, that we must, ignore the lesser issues. They are not mutually exclusive, and one can work to improve and solve both the greater issues and the lesser issues. There is no obligation to only focus on the greater issues.

Yes, bloggers and commenters have done great things, exposing corruption, sex offenders, abusive personalities, denouncing criminals that get a free pass in general society and discussing issues that much of the mainstream frum media is not willing to touch and discuss. And perhaps most importantly, a forum has been created allowing the people to talk, to discuss, to grapple with the issues, the questions, explore the possibilities and the answers, at an unprecedented level.

However, Rav Ginzberg is correct at a certain level. People do hide behind anonymity, and take advantage of this anonymity to talk in ways they never would if their identity were known. Personally, I think anybody anonymous, anybody not willing to put their name to their opinion, can and should be ignored. I believe if a person has a belief that he wishes to express, he should put his name to his opinion, put his credibility behind his words. I do understand why some people don't - they feel they cannot say what they want as their will be repercussions if they do - but i don't think that it is right. People should put their name behind their words, or keep it to themselves. This is not an attempt to stifle discussion, but to broaden the discussion - to have people discuss the issues in appropriate language and tone, while voicing credible opinions.

With the reality being that anonymous comments and blogs are here to stay, we must bear some responsibility for our words. Just because nobody knows who I am, as I am commenting with an anonymous name, does not mean I can hide behind that to talk in ways that are hurtful. Asking that of people does not have to be stifling the conversation.

Perhaps in the broader sense Rav Ginzberg's ultimate goal is to stifle the conversation  - I don't know. if that is his goal, I reject it. I believe there is a place for the blogger and the commenter, hopefully with their names behind their opinions, but even without. Not only do I believe it, today's world is changed because of it - people are becoming more aware that what they do that they used to think was easy to hide and keep secret, no longer can be done so easily. Hopefully it forces people to improve their behavior, to be more true to the public they supposedly represent, to the ideals they espouse. However, the open forum provided by the internet could bear some cleaning up, by the people themselves, and writing should be done more responsibly, with respect for each other and their opinions. Disagree respectfully. Expose responsibly.


  1. There is another reason people post anonymously- they are concerned about what the blog OWNER will do if they know who the commenter is. I know I am particularly careful to post anonymously after finding out my information was misused in the past. Information the blog owner knew personally was passed on to a third party without my permission because they knew who I was both in comments I had left and outside information and put it together.

  2. point taken, and I would add that I allow anonymous comments because even though I think people should write with their names I recognize that people have reasons to be anonymous.

    However, the point of the post was not the "being anonymous", but the hiding behind anonymity to write things in hateful ways rather than respectfully

  3. I agree- but thee are very good reasons for having anonymous options- and without it people would not be as free to speak there minds. should people be malicious because they are not likely ot be found out- obviously not, on the other hand it is good to know the security is there.

  4. Another Anonymous ;-)February 21, 2011 3:49 PM

    I think "hate" is a valid complaint. There's a slightly different complaint about the tone of discourse on blogs - but they misunderstand the intentions of the discussions - where many of us are delving, exploring frustrations with sincerity, these brick-and-mortar take any "questioning" the establishment as a sort of rebellion.

  5. It is very sad that we live in a society that not only judges us by what we say, write, wear,eat,etc but also acts on those judgments.

    People writing on blogs have to fear what their kid's schools will do, how their friends and neighbors will react and so forth.

    I can easily understand why people choose this anon status.

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