Monday, April 15, 2013

Some of you have asked, so here's my unimportant, entirely irrelevant opinion on the Broyde Brouhaha

We still have a few days to go before the Internet does the right thing and forgets all about R. Michael Broyde's well-publicized indiscretions so let me get my licks in while there is still time.

Here's my official opinion:
There is nothing wrong with (1) using a fake name to participate on comment boards; and nothing wrong with (2) using a fake name to share, test and discuss ideas. In fact, I strongly encourage everyone to use fake names to share, test and discuss ideas because the anonymity will permit you to explore things your main name can't be caught flirting with (say, via a Google search). However, there probably is something wrong with (3) using a fake name to improve the public's perception of your real name or work -- especially if your fake online name has developed a sterling reputation of its own.

But I'm not sure that (3) is a firable offense, though I concede the rules may be different for someone who is the face of an organization and similar. We may, for example, require more from shul rabbis but only the congregation is entitled to decide that question.

And here's something else:
No one, not even the most ardent Facebooker, shares everything with everyone. We all bifurcate. There are parts of ourselves we share with our spouses, that we don't share our friends. There are things we let our shul friends see that are kept hidden from our work friends -and vice versa. Additionally, there are sub groups of work friends and shul friends who are granted different levels of access to our "real" or "full" selves.*

* I think this is healthy and normal and something the dopes who demand that everyone must always participate in Internet discussions using their real names fail to understand. Why should every potential employer or opponent in a law suit be able to discover with a mouse click that I e.g. like to read Perez Hilton?

More importantly, we all have the right to keep the ugly sides of ourselves private. R' Broyde quite clearly had no expectation that anyone would discover the insecurity - or whatever it was - that brought his sock-puppet into existence. Had anyone been damaged by the sock-puppet, the insecurity - or whatever it was - would be our business. But because I am having trouble identifying a victim this ceremonial tearing of the flesh from R. Broyde's bones feels like a violation of privacy. Just as I don't need to know that famous person so and so visits prostitutes -- unless he's hurting someone (like his wife) or unless he's on the record tormenting others who visit prostitutes, etc. - I don't need to know that a famous Rabbi lacks in self-confidence.*

 *This is not a criticism of Stephen Wise (provided he conducted an ethical investigation) Wise wasn't playing gotcha journalism and Broyde's indiscretion raises legitimate questions about the Rabbi's fitness to serve as community leader. The press is supposed to keep an eye on our leaders (I'd feel differently if Broyde was a private citizen) I just don't think those legitimate questions ought to be examined by anyone other than the Rabbi's own constituents. And I say this because I can't identify a victim and because I can't see how the sockpuppet suggests Broyde is unfit to continue serving as a dayam or law professor. As unrealistic as this expectation might be, I really think the absence of those two factors - a victim or some reason to think that a vain or insecure person can't be a judge - means  public discussion of this affair should have started and ended with Wise's article. 

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