Facebooknacht: Rabbis purged from social network site Facebook over title “rabbi”


After having my account suddenly killed, I thought that perhaps it was an isolated case.

Then my email box filled with dozens of emails from rabbi listserves all with the same story.

Without warning. Without notice. Anyone who had the name Rabbi in their name had it removed.

But more damaging was that rabbis like me who are know only by one name – first or last – had their accounts disabled.

Today there are tens on thousands of people who have lost connections to their spiritual mentors and friends over some seemingly innocuous infraction of the Facebook laws.

We rabbis and priests and ministers and imams have many options- boycott Facebook over their anti clergy actions, perhaps just switch to other networking sites, maybe to submit to the discriminatory laws of Facebook.

What do you think?


19 Comments

  1. J. D. Edelman

    2/16/2009 at 12:46 pm

    Rav Yonah -

    I did see that FB insists on a last name, and regardless whether I think that’s a good policy (I do), it’s at least defensible.

    However, my very quick perusal of the FB terms, did not reveal any prohibition of a clergy-related moniker. Such a thing would be far less defensible, and probably pretty crummy.

    So, you should have to use your last name, but you should be ABLE to identify yourself as a Rabbi.

    That’s what I think.

  2. themiddle

    2/16/2009 at 1:26 pm

    Have some very diplomatic people go and discuss this issue with the owners of the company.

  3. amechad

    2/16/2009 at 1:34 pm

    Facebook requires real names. It’s part of the TOS.

    Rabbi Yonah, I think you need to comply with Facebook’s TOS and cut out the hyperbole. The Jewish people have enough challenges and things to work on.

  4. amechad

    2/16/2009 at 1:36 pm

    Adar’s not for another week yet.

  5. David A.M. Wilensky

    2/16/2009 at 4:10 pm

    All the Rabbis that I’m friends with on Facebook are still around. That includes one whose facebook name is Rabbi Michael Namath. The rest of them saw fit to behave like the rest of the FB populace and use only their actual names. No titles, you see.

  6. Larry

    2/16/2009 at 4:19 pm

    They were rude to disable your account and contacts without warning. The least they could have done was delete Rabbi Shmuley Boteach first

  7. David A.M. Wilensky

    2/16/2009 at 5:24 pm

    LOL @ Larry.

  8. Rabbi Yonah

    2/16/2009 at 7:52 pm

    I’ve been on Facebook for nearly three years. In all that time I have never had any trouble. And while I appreciate the good advice to comply with the rules, I think that that misses the point.

    The point is why can’t a member of the clergy, or anyone else, use the name that they feel comfortable with? The name that everyone knows them by?

    And if they are cracking down on fake names… why start up with rabbis – when a simple courteous note would have been sufficient. There are lots of other dubious names out there, lots of pretenders, and offenders.

    Meanwhile I have received a letter from a very high member of the executive at Facebook who has asked ther team that made this happen contact me tomorrow after the holiday weekend.

    And if anyone had read my old profile on facebook you would see that I don’t like to follow all the rules when the rules are clearly, well, mistaken.

  9. Rabbi Yonah

    2/16/2009 at 7:54 pm

    one more thing – Amechad – my feelings are serious, but my post was also meant to try to joke about the situation. Sorry if that didn’t come across

  10. Rabbi Eliezer Sneiderman

    2/16/2009 at 8:47 pm

    I didn’t have my acct taken away. They just took away my title. I have been on facebook since the beginning. Many years with no problems. I think they will change their policy.

    Rabbi Eliezer Sneiderman

  11. Chutzpah

    2/17/2009 at 8:28 am

    “Why can’t a member of the clergy use a name they are comfortable with?” Supposed members of the clergy are often sexual predators. They should be held to a HIGHER standard of disclosure because people entrusted them with a higher level of personal privileged and confidential information. “Clergy” should be required to disclose tax-exempt id #’s, financial records of their o religious organization, addresses, phone #’s , legal full name and all previous aliases, educational background, criminal records, etc.

    They shouldn’t get free run to go out and try to influence hearts and souls and sometimes collect funds over the internet without disclosing it all.

    The term “Rabbi” is a good place for Facebook to start to clean-out posers from their network. With millions of profiles, they are absolutely justified in using any tag they thing might lead to a profile that is breaking the terms of use agreement.

    Why can’t “anyone else” use the name they feel comfortable with? (“look at me, I’m such a holy and naive man that I can ask this with such innocence”). Yonah, there are kids on that site that are being exposed to dangerous people everyday and Facebook has to fight off liability every time someone gets hurt, that’s why. Duh.

  12. Kung Fu Jew 18

    2/17/2009 at 12:58 pm

    Chutzpah, would you demand to see their smicha certificates also? Protecting children aside, I’m not interested in being a member on Policebook.

  13. Kim Phillips

    2/17/2009 at 1:06 pm

    Unfortunately, if we want to play their game we have to play by their rules. There are creative ways around it. Anybody who is your Facebook friend should already know you are a rabbi. And you can say pretty much whatever you want about that on your page…at least for the moment.

  14. montana urban legend

    2/18/2009 at 8:25 pm

    Facebook seemed interesting to me when it was a small operation for use between college buddies. Anything that has become as big as it has is bound to become stupid, though. I haven’t got on it. And I say screw anyone who prefers to outsource their social networking to a big, faceless company – and one started under ethically dubious circumstances at that, no less.

    In college and grad school, when the intertubes were just starting, we could engage collaborative activities with small groups via intranet – i.e. closed, private sites. Ideally Facebook should offer services more in-line with that. But the internet has already changed the culture and unfortunately people will use it not just to compile and sift through information and exchange interesting ideas pseudonymously (which is rather the point; that’s its strongest feature), but to help get more of the sheeple to further the facade of connection while really just going about their increasing isolation in an ever more convenient way. Yonah’s attachment to his cutesie name is a slap in the face against this trend and hence I’m sympathetic to his stance. But it is their shop. And as an American business it’s entitled to being just as fascist toward its willing customers as we’ve allowed our workplaces to become.

    Anyone who thinks that useless demographic information can make someone easier for you to relate to, let alone more personable, is a moron – and really needs to rethink their basis for making social judgments about others. I unfortunately include a huge chunk of humanity in this category.

    I also sympathize with Chutzpah’s desire to see high standards demonstrated among clergy, but the list rattled off is a bit too 1984. In other words, what Kung Fu Jew said.

  15. froylein

    2/19/2009 at 12:56 am

    BTW, FB was founded by a Jew, and the main purpose in requiring somebody’s full name is not to give possible online predators much more of a chance than they’ve already got. When you register for FB, you see an announcement that FB preserves the right to delete profiles of people not sharing their real names on random checks. There’s a possibility of reporting people to FB; maybe somebody took it upon himself to report all people with “Rabbi” + firstname. I see Yonah’s point that title + firstname is the common way to address clergy not only in Judaism. I don’t know about American IDs, but over here, there’s a special line on ID cards for clergy names, yet the full name must still be given.
    What might be interesting to know is whether FB did a random check looking for “rabbis” (there indeed are many fake ones out there) or whether somebody with too much time on their hands had gone about reporting rabbis to FB.
    Either way, I wouldn’t blow this out of proportion.

  16. Chutzpah

    2/20/2009 at 11:47 am

    It would be appropriate for them to delete any titles beginning with “Brother” “Sister” “Father” “Reverend” etc. plus a first name with no last name as well. Mort Zuckerberg needs to protect his brainchild, even if people go around bashing it.

    And yes, I would want to know where any Rabbi who I am learning from got smicha, just like I would want to know where my Doctor went to Medical School. I don’t like the “who is a Rabbi game”, but people have a right to know if they are dealing with a Big Aish “McRabbi” who got drive-through smicha with his last order of treif fries and a burger.

  17. Arieh Lebowitz

    2/23/2009 at 2:27 pm

    Article on this online:

    msnbc.msn.com/...

    Taking the “Rabbi” Out of Facebook
    By Dan Stamm
    NBCPhiladelphia.com
    updated 3:45 p.m. ET, Thurs., Feb. 19, 2009

    Some local rabbis noticed something strange when they signed onto their Facebook accounts Friday morning — their title was gone from their profile.

    Just in time for Shabbat they’ve taken the “Rabbi” away from the social network.

    Chabad rabbis throughout the country began to notice the title “Rabbi” being dropped from their accounts on Thursday night, according to a source.

    A simple search for the term Rabbi on Facebook reveals a slew of local Philadelphia rabbis who no longer have the title “Rabbi” at the beginning of their Facebook names.

    NBCPhiladelphia.com tracked down the people over at Facebook for a response to this supposed dropping of names.

    “We do have systems in place that block people from using certain words and titles in their names,” said Simon Axten with Facebook.com.

    “This is to prevent abuse and help maintain our real name culture, which drives accountability on the site,” said Axten.

    To be fair to the Facebook people a search for Reverend and Pastor also yields few results for the Philadelphia area.

    These systems have been around for a while, according to Axten.

    “To be clear, people who try to sign up with a name that contains a word on our blacklist, or who try to change their name to one that includes one of these words, will be blocked. They can then write to us if they feel their use of the word is legitimate,” said Axten.

    A blacklist, what names are included on the blacklist?

    “The list is quite long and includes words and names commonly associated with fake accounts. You can’t sign up as ‘Barack Obama’ or ‘Britney Spears,’ for example,” said Axten.

    Facebook encourages anyone who wishes to use a legitimate title on Facebook should contact the Facebook team. “Our …

  18. Ruth Stein

    2/16/2010 at 10:02 pm

    can’t you use “rabbi yonah” as a nickname – a middle in name in quotes?

  19. Pingback: What We Missed, 2009 Edition » Mixed Multitudes – My Jewish Learning: Exploring Judaism & Jewish Life

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