I read Us Weekly. I scan Facebook for the doings of friends. I would not describe myself as a gossip, but I love to sit down with friends and chew over the news of our mutual acquaintance. I felt a little bad about all that after reading the anti-gossip article in the Wall Street Journal this morning, centered around these queries.
"Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?"
These three questions have been around for centuries, attributed to Socrates and Buddhist teachings, and linked to the tenets of Christianity and the Jewish prohibition on "lashon hara," or evil language.
I think I keep to those questions — and you'll never find me posting nasty things on a blog, or going for the jugular in a public way. (Wow. Now that I've written that I realize that there are former — or current — interns out there who've probably caught me in a bad moment. But not an unkind one, I hope. Sigh.) But of course, the long memory of the internet is an engine for aforementioned lashon hara, as the WSJ points out. Nowadays, the emphasis is on consequences, rather then prevention.
Given the times we live in, [Daniel Solove, a professor at George Washington University Law School] says it can't hurt to reinforce in our children the need to ask: "Is it kind? True? Necessary?" But he suspects that "we can't make people nicer. So we need to keep pushing legal consequences." He advocates the strengthening of laws against Internet irresponsibility, arguing that the specter of being sued is the best weapon to slow down malicious gossip.
It's a fairly bleak view. And it's human nature to tell stories, the quality of which are more than usually dubious. But can you slow down the malice if you try to keep to those questions? I'll give it a whirl. (Except, I will continue to get Us Weekly. Sorry. Rome wasn't built in a day. Ask anyone.)