Sign onto FaceGlat, the new social networking site for the ultra-Orthodox, and up pops a directive for women to click on the arrow to the left, while men are sent to the right.
It’s like a cyber mechitza.
FaceGlat was launched last summer by Yaakov Swisa — the Israeli Haredi answer to Mark Zuckerberg. Swisa, 24, has been building websites for the past two years, but has had no formal training in computers. He created FaceGlat to allow people of the same gender to share posts and photos, while blocking contact deemed immodest.
“We see a rise in Internet use in the religious [Orthodox community], and so we need to reduce exposure to harmful content as [much as] possible,” Swisa wrote in an e-mail to the Chronicle.
For example, if an Orthodox woman wants to publish her personal profile, and share that information with her female friends, she can sign onto FaceGlat knowing that men will have no access to her photographs and other content.
“Perhaps it may seem too strong,” Swisa said, “but these are the needs in the community, and the site was established for a particular community.”
Social networking sites, such as Facebook, are unsuitable for the ultra-Orthodox, according to Swisa.
“The downside at the various sites is a few things,” he said. “First, the contents are not being filtered, and contain images that [are inappropriate for] the ultra-Orthodox community. And there are promotional materials that do not fit the community.”
The protected, cyber-world of FaceGlat seems to be catching on. In just four months, more than 7,000 users have registered, and the numbers are rising every day, according to Swisa. Members come from all over the globe, including Europe and the United States, as well as Israel.
Swisa has built safeguards into his site to ensure the content posted is suitable for his community. For example, a program tracks and deletes inappropriate words, and a “report” tool allows users to report inappropriate content, or another user whose sole purpose seems to be to post improper information. FaceGlat then reviews the items or users reported to decide if they should be removed from the site, Swisa said.
Although he has not visited FaceGlat, Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld, director of the Lubavitch Center of Pittsburgh, believes it could be “very helpful” for those wanting to be connected on a social networking site, but who do not want to be exposed to things they find objectionable.
“As a rule, we do not encourage anyone to use Facebook,” Rosenfeld said, “because once you are on it, you are not in control of what you see and what you hear.”
Because contemporary society is already fraught with negative influences, he continued, “we don’t have to add additional challenges to our children’s lives.”
While Rosenfeld does not discourage his community from using the Internet as an absolute, he cautions that it must be used appropriately.
“The Internet, like everything in the world, has its plusses and minuses,” he said. “We encourage it to be used properly.
A child using the Internet should have parental supervision. As we get older, we are more able to recognize what is proper. But for our children, we must be careful to be on top of it.
“The Lubavitcher Rebbe was one of the first Jewish leaders in the world to use TV,” Rosenfeld noted. “His addresses could be heard nationally and internationally.
He saw [TV] as an opportunity to share his words of inspiration.”
As for Facebook, “we tell our children not to go on it,” Rosenfeld said. “We discourage it.”
Swisa is not the first Israeli entrepreneur to come up with a way of making the Internet more palatable to the ultra-Orthodox. Rimon, a company founded by Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira, head of the
Ramat Gan hesder yeshiva, was the first Internet provider in Israel to block sites that include pornography, violence or gambling.
Still, Swisa may have found an underserved niche in providing Internet resources for the ultra-Orthodox. He is currently hard at work on two more projects, including a video-sharing site for his community that will integrate YouTube, and other video sites, but filter the content so that anything objectionable will be removed.
The new site, which will open next week, “will include video with only a high level,” he said, like music and lessons.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)