Jewish Thought

Can Social Media and Modesty Coexist?

Of all contemporary religious challenges, social media tops my list. Its complexity is overwhelming, particularly due to the nature of the medium: social media isn’t just a tool, it’s a double-edged sword. You’re naive to fully embrace it, but less engaged with the world and its opportunities if you reject it. As the creative director of an OU social media account, co-host of a podcast and a writer, social media is how I get my work out there. It’s a tool I take seriously and hold gingerly in my pocket. 

There are various layers to the complexity of social media, including documented dangers. One of the primary challenges is modesty. No doubt, modesty in dress and appearance on social media is something even the world at large grapples with, and it is a particular struggle for teenagers on trending platforms, who may feel pressured to post compromising pictures or videos. However, there are so many other layers of depth to the challenge of modesty on social media. Social media tests our very relationship with the concept of tzenius in our lives.

 Here are questions I’ve asked myself: How much brand building is appropriate for me? Is sharing promotional content for my podcast or speaking gigs self-promotion, or am I simply using this platform to share work I’m doing that adds value? What is my purpose in posting this picture of myself? Are there considerable downsides to posting vacation pictures? Will this post hurt someone? Do I need to speak directly to someone instead of raising the issue on social media? Am I aware that thousands of people will be seeing this content? In a word, the most common question I ask before I post anything is: Why?

For me, most of these are questions of modesty. Modesty is an internal focus. This doesn’t mean I can’t be public, but it does mean internality needs to inform my public decisions.

Here’s a sentiment I hear often: “Social media is, by definition, not tzenius.” This is said with the assumption that social media users are posting content exposing their innermost world. That they are using social media to self-promote and show off. Which all happens—all the time.

And therein lies the challenge. Is it possible to use this medium in a way that doesn’t overexpose and show off? I believe it is. Discretion, self-control and propriety are required. Which is, in fact, the very essence of tzenius. Social media is a tool that isn’t by definition “not tzenius.” It’s a tool that can be used immodestly or modestly. Is it a difficult and potentially dangerous tool to use, with temptations built into its mechanics? Absolutely.

Before we arrive at any hopefully helpful or meaningful conclusions, let’s get our terms straight. What is social media?

According to Wikipedia, “Social media are interactive technologies that facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas, interests and other forms of expression through virtual communities and networks.”

Modesty is an internal focus. This doesn’t mean I can’t be public, but it does mean internality needs to inform my public decisions.

Social media has enabled me to share the articles I’ve written and the podcast episodes I’ve hosted, as well as promote the work of others that I deem valuable. It has provided me with inspiring Jewish content that has positively impacted my growth. It has allowed me to form professional connections that have led to new opportunities. It has given me the chance to learn about other people and their life experiences. It has provided me with like-minded friends with whom I’ve built offline relationships that have enhanced my life. It’s granted me an audience to consume the content I create, which I hope is beneficial to people. While I would never have imagined this (I’m a trained educator who only entered this space less than a decade ago), outside of my contributions to my family, media and social media are the primary tools I use to contribute to Klal Yisrael.

What is modesty? Modesty is discretion. It’s knowing what to share and what to keep hidden. Beyond halachah, the beauty of modesty is that it’s a very personal thing. For some, that means no social media. For others, that means no posting personal content. And yet for others, it’s posting thoughtfully, with boundaries and goals always at the forefront. For those of us on social media platforms, it’s our duty as religious Jews to be constantly vigilant. We must be brutally honest and examine whether we are breaching any personal boundaries of discretion. On platforms where sharing vulnerably is the gold standard, we need to remember that what we keep private is truly the most valuable part of ourselves and our lives. Getting caught up with the pressure to post daily snapshots and the resultant dopamine rush of likes and shares is a surefire way to distract us from staying focused.

In a verse in Mishlei, modesty is referenced in a surprising way that is remarkably relevant to this topic: “When arrogance appears, disgrace follows, but wisdom is with those who are modest” (Mishlei 11:2). Tzenius here is associated with wisdom and is presented as the opposite of arrogance. How true this rings when it comes to our relationship with social media. 

Social media is the arrogant person’s playground and can actually lead to disgracing a person’s name and reputation. 

Modesty on social media means being discerning and wise. It’s being thoughtful before every post, before every piece of content is created. It’s always asking, “Why? Why am I posting this? “What is my need? Is this truly me? While social media can never capture the wholeness of me or my life, is what I’m posting a window I want to open into my reality?”

Chamath Palihapitiya, CEO of Social Capital, shared this idea in the brilliant documentary The Social Dilemma: “We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection because we get rewarded in these short-term signals—hearts, likes, thumbs up—and we conflate that with value and we conflate it with truth. And instead, what it really is is fake, brittle popularity that’s short term and that leaves you even more, and admit it, vacant and empty [than] before you did it.”  

No doubt, social media has the potential for vacancy and lack of truth. Before we click share, we must diligently remind ourselves that social media is a tool that can be used to add value and truth to the lives of so many, as long as we use the value of internality as our compass. 

Alexandra Fleksher is an educator, columnist, co-host of the Deep Meaningful Conversations podcast, and creative director of the OU’s Faces of Orthodoxy social media initiative. She lives in University Heights, Ohio, with her family.

More in this Section

Rethinking Tzeniut by Bracha Poliakoff

Modesty: An Educator’s Perspective by Shifra Rabenstein, as told to Barbara Bensoussan

My Tzeniut Journey by Josepha Becker

A New Approach for Teens by Dr. Zipora Schorr

Tzenius: The Key to an Inner Life by Rabbi Reuven Brand

Public and Private in the Age of Instagram by Rabbi Yisrael Motzen

To Post or Not to Post by Gila Ross

Walking a Tightrope by Rebbetzin Ruchi Koval, as told to Barbara Bensoussan

High Fashion, Higher Standards by Sandy Eller

This article was featured in the Summer 2024 issue of Jewish Action.
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