Somebody should write a book with that title.
Reason 142? Wikipedia. For all that I make use of this Web resource every day, I often get a queasy feeling about it. Many “facts” I’ve come across I know to be false or misleading, whether subtly or grossly, but there’s little you can do about it, and not least when the context has anything to do with evolution. There will always be some anonymous Wiki “volunteer” out there on instant email-notification standby, having nothing better to do with his time than to change your correction back to what it had been originally.
Don’t these people work for a living? I guess not.
This morning a friend sent around a USA Today op-ed by journalist and former RFK aide John Seigenthaler. I assume Seigenthaler is Jewish. At the conclusion of the article, he tells a Hasidic story, without calling it that, that he says he heard from his mother. It compares the insidiousness of gossip to feathers from a pillow scattered in the wind. You can no more call back a slander you have spread, make amends for it, than you can gather up all those feathers.
The piece originally appeared back in 2005 but remains relevant and disturbing. In his Wikipedia biography, Seigenthaler was linked by some anonymous Internet snake with no less a crime than being somehow involved with plotting the assassination of John and Robert Kennedy. He couldn’t get rid of the smear for 132 days. This is an extreme case, obviously, but many people, well known and less so, have been hurt in ways that are nearly impossible to trace, punish, or amend, thanks to wonderful Internet resources like Wikipedia.
Jewish tradition understood the danger here long ago. The crime of gossip — like murder, to which the Talmud compares it — really can’t be undone. The Bible implies as much in the saying in Proverbs: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (18:21).
Are you surprised to hear a blogger say things were better before the Web? There’s no going back to the good of days of newspapers, editors, live human communication, and all the rest, but for many reasons that would be beyond the scope of one blog entry, it’s true. Or do you disagree? Let’s discuss.