A parent is upset about how his child is treated by a summer camp and wants the situation rectified.
In 2012, how does a parent deal with this situation? By blogging about it, of course, and sending the link to the blog out to all of his friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter. Since the post has a catchy title and hinted at an injustice done to a disabled child, people’s interest is piqued. Several thousand click on the link to read the blog post and then send it on to others though their social media connections. Helping a parent fight for the rights of his disabled child becomes a small cause celebre. Within 24 hours the camp has apologized for its actions and the situation is rectified.
This is how business gets done today. This situation, which took place at Camp Ramah Canada two weeks ago, is a great example of the culture we now live in. Several current sociological phenomena are exemplified in this story.
First, the power of the individual over an institution. As documented in Clay Shirkey’s book Here Comes Everybody, with the rise of social media a person or a small group of people can come together to topple huge institutions. One of his examples is how social media allowed a small number of people to bring attention to the issue of pedophile priests in the Catholic church. The attention brought to this issue has led to a severe decline in Catholic affiliation and church attendance in the Northeast. According to the American Religious Identity Survey of 2008, between 1990 and 2008 the Catholic population proportion of the New England states fell from 50 percent to 36 percent. The church had managed to cover up this issue for decades, but the power of the internet exposed it and ended the practice.
This new power accorded to individuals plays into another trend highlighted by Steve Windmuller in a recent post on eJewish Philanthropy, where he writes about the decline of denominationalism, and religious and social movements in general. He cites a Washington Post article saying that “In the 1970s, religious leaders inspired somewhat greater public confidence than did leaders of other institutions, but their relative position has since declined. People now express as low a degree of confidence in religious leaders as they do, on average, in leaders of other major institutions.” In general, people now harbor a distrust of large institutions. This is not surprising in an age that has seen the scandals around pedophile priests and Penn State, as well as the current economic crisis.
The institutional Jewish world has yet to figure out how to respond to these trends. As interesting as it was to read Rabbi David Krishef’s initial blog post about Camp Ramah, I found it even more interesting to read the reactions to the post. Most people clearly supported the father and showed their support by reposting and tweeting his blog. However, a number of different voices also emerged. One strong current was the horror many expressed that this issue was made public in the first place. One person commented, “As I truly believe, there are three sides to every story, the truth lying somewhere in the middle. I was more shocked and stunned at the way that social media was used to bring this issue to light. There were many other avenues that could have been pursued before dragging this issue through the cyber airwaves.” I saw this theme particularly pursued by rabbis and other Jewish professionals. Another person posted, “we should never air our dirty laundry publicly” and another, “This is l’shon hara – gossip – in its purest form and will hurt innocent people.”
The leaders of institutions in the Jewish world need to become as fluent in the use of social media as their members are. As the number of reposts of the initial blog and comments multiplied, the silence from the national Ramah office was deafening. It took the office over 24 hours to issue a response. In the old world, this would have been considered quick action. But not anymore. With each passing hour more and more people heard the story, yet Ramah did not avail itself of the social media power it too could have unleashed. I realize that this was an extremely sensitive situation and that all the facts were not known. Ramah had the responsibility to protect this family as much as it could, and going on the attack was not the answer. However, a few statements issued immediately to get out the message that they were working on this delicate situation would have been extraordinarily helpful for Ramah’s reputation.
I have led social media training for rabbinic groups across the country. More and more rabbis are learning how to use social media in sophisticated ways to build community and as avenues for outreach. However, I also have encountered deep resistance. “I don’t have time for that” is one major lament. To which I answer, “You do not have time to ignore it.”
By tomorrow there already will be another story that everyone is talking and blogging about.
This article is taken from a blog post on