Sometimes the world can be cruel but the Internet takes it to the next level. I’ve tried to make it a practice not to get involved in debates on social media. In my younger days I would engage in conversation and it almost never helped anything. Online debate never goes well and people are usually cruel. Online debates are like two toddlers fighting over a toy with no parent to moderate.
I think Twitter is perhaps the vilest of the social media world. Recently on Twitter I broke my own rule and tweeted back at a political figure when I probably should have just scrolled on or better yet delete the app.
But alas there are certain hot buttons that make my anger rise up. Abortion is the main one. This politician said we should elect more women who will make sure women get the ‘reproductive healthcare’ they need. She is an outspoken advocate for abortion and her name rhymes with Billary. I gave a two-word response tweet, “Let’s not.” That was it. It was snarky and perhaps I shouldn’t have done it but the fury that ensued was enlightening.
My two word reply gained dozens of responses. I was told to ‘go sterilize myself.’ I was told that I was a weak man who was afraid of women. I was told I hated women. Many of the responses said that they felt sorry for my girls that I was their father. And on and on it went.
As I looked at a number of the accounts of the people that were saying super cruel things I noticed that most of them didn’t have real names and many of them were accounts set up in a way that you couldn’t know the people commenting.
The Internet really allows people to say what they feel. Maybe there are good reasons we don’t always say what we feel. Maybe that is why we filter our words and choose them carefully before we fling them into the world. If we always said what we felt most of us would be unemployed and divorced. Social media creates a troll society in which people hide behind keyboards and say whatever they want. It’s like a drive by shooting in which they can injure others with their words and move right on by. Every person knows that old nursery rhyme is NOT true, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” So many of us have recovered from attacks by sticks and stones but words that were said decades ago still reverberate in our subconscious.
I imagine if I met these keyboard warriors who were saying incredible things about me online they would probably be less brutal face to face. In fact I would guess that we would probably get along and they might not find me as atrocious as their comments would indicate. We could probably even be friends. I have been all over the world and encountered people who look different than I do, dress different, smell different, and believe different that I do. In all the people groups I’ve met I’ve always found common ground with people when I took time to listen to their story and engage with them on a personal level. People are amazing! Social media strips people down to the naked root of their worst moments.
Again, this is a problem with social media. We think we know people based on a few things that the Internet says about them. We find out their faith and political preference and we assume that’s all we need to know to sum the person up.
I would warn that it’s so important to be kind online.
I think perhaps the only way to be on social media is to be kind.
Part of the staff culture at the church I work at is something we say, “Don’t email hard stuff.” I have just found that there’s so much room for misinterpretation through written emails that if there’s something going on that could possibly be misinterpreted through a text or email we ask our staff to pick up a phone or go to talk to someone face to face. This usually makes the margin of misinterpretation much smaller and we are almost always more kind through face-to-face interaction.
While social media has done amazing things in connecting the world, like money, it’s a tool that can be used for good or for evil. Be very careful with your words on social media. Don’t assume you know the person you don’t know.
If you’re a Christian remember that you never have the privilege of being unkind. Don’t be like me and engage in fruitless debate and make snarky remarks. You have better things to do with your time. Bake a pie. Read a book. Go on a walk. Talk to your family.
If you must stay on social media engage in one simple rule.
Use your social media to encourage others.
Leave encouraging comments.
Scroll past stuff that makes your blood boil and maybe even remove it from your news feed.
Be salt and light in our wicked culture. Don’t be a troll.