This is cross posted on JewintheCity.com.
So Congressman Anthony Weiner has resigned. Apparently a politician involved in lewd online behavior, who lies about aforementioned lewd online behavior when caught, is frowned upon by the general public. But how many regular people have recently found themselves in an embarassing (albeit less extreme) situation when they assumed that their online indiscretions were discreet?
I'm talking about Facebook spam. Stories, pictures, and headlines have been popping up in my newsfeed of late, claiming that many of my Facebook friends have "liked" stories of a sexual, often voyeuristic nature. As giving people the benefit of the doubt is a big principle in Judaism, I have done my best to assume that some of the people caught this spam by accidentally clicking on a story in one of their friend's feed while others had their accounts hacked, but the truth is that probably many of these people were just curious to see whatever it was that the headline described and figured that no one would ever know.
But instead of no one ever knowing, the incident got broadcast to everyone they know! There's an idea in Judasim that God sometimes punishes us "mida k'neged mida" ("measure for measure") so that the punishment fits the crime. In this case it could mean that if we think we can get away with certain behaviors by sneaking around, then the punishment we receive is to have our misdeeds publicized. Apparently the creators of Facebook spam believe in this principle too!
While it's been embarassing to see such stories pop up, I think there's actually something useful about this phenomenon. When we navigate online, we often have the false impression that stories we read, the pictures we see, and the videos we watch are completely private. But as our sages tell us in Ethics of the Fathers, “…Know what is above you – a watchful Eye, an attentive Ear and all your deeds are recorded in a Book.”
Surfing the net alone in a room might make us feel like our activities are on the down low, but we must always remember that they are being recorded from Above. Since it's hard to connect with the goings-on of the Heavens, social media spam (or at least the fear of it) helps make the notion of being watched much more concrete. It's unfortunately too late for Anthony Weiner, but for the rest of us there's still a chance to save face.