I recently witnessed a vicious attack on someone’s character via social media. As one who has active accounts on both Facebook and Twitter, this didn’t surprise me because I had seen it before (and have even been on the receiving end of it myself), but it did appall me. The attack was not only unnecessary, but unfounded.
How many times have we witnessed insanely hateful comments posted on someone’s social media?
In today’s “screen” culture, it’s easier than ever to be hateful because of the anonymity. After all, isn’t it more acceptable to be spiteful when you’re not face to face with someone with whom you disagree? When you’re sitting at a desk behind a computer screen or sitting in your recliner with your phone or other handheld device? When you’re on your laptop taking an online college course and someone disagrees with you about a hotly-contested topic?
That distance – sometimes miles, sometimes continents apart – emboldens people, and not in a good way.
In our polarized culture, it’s not unanticipated, although it is unsettling.
Sadly, I’ve seen it among Christians as well. This is perhaps the most disturbing of all, as we are to be in this world, but not of it. God detests strife among fellow Believers. Yet, it’s easy, even for those who profess Christ, to act like the world and fall into the trap of taking offense and following up that offense with vile words or sharing their disagreements through hateful responses.
Whether in person or online, Proverbs 15:1 still holds true.
It also holds true that if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all. This can be difficult, but if you are set on slandering someone’s reputation via a comment, post, email, or online message, you would be wise to heed the advice found in Ephesians 4:29: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
In the “olden” days, if someone disagreed, they said it to someone’s face. Today, as we sit behind a computer or phone screen, the words our fingers find to type seem to come more readily and without much thought, resulting in a slew of hateful, cruel responses and accusations, none of which belong in civil conversations over any medium.
Case in point, a dear friend and I are on opposites sides about a much-debated topic in today’s culture. As we were chatting via text the other day, she mentioned her viewpoint in a gracious way. I responded in same and we agreed to disagree. The difference of opinion did not alter our opinions of each other, nor did it cause us to react in a way that would destroy our friendship. She is a blessing to me and life is too short to allow something so trivial to divide us.
I encourage all of us to set ourselves apart from the culture of social media bullying via words. If you don’t like what you’re seeing in a Facebook or Twitter post, scroll on by. (And I’m not talking about pornography, violence, or sexually explicit images. Those aren’t people you should be following anyway). Rather, I’m talking about someone who posts something on the opposite side of the spectrum politically or religiously than you. If you don’t agree with it, scroll on by. If you have something constructive to add to the conversation, by all means, please do it, but in a civil, professional manner. I am the first to tell you I believe in our right to free speech. But hatefulness, slander, accusatory words, backbiting, and strife-causing is not pleasing to the Lord first and foremost, and it’s not pleasing to those who happen to see it on their friends’ timelines.
Rather, let’s encourage each other.
Most who know me know I am a conservative Christian. Most who know me also know that while most of my friends are in the same “category”, I also have several moderate-leaning and liberal-leaning friends. I also have atheist friends and those of other religions. When they post something I don’t agree with, I’m on the move with the mouse button. Nothing says I have to “like” or “retweet” what they’ve posted. But something, or rather Someone, does say I shouldn’t respond with hatred or vile words.
The book of James tells us to be slow to speak and quick to listen. The same can be said for our typing/texting habits.
My own personal mantra? May every word that is communicated through my fingertips be pleasing in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:14, Penny version).
We don’t always have to be right. We don’t always have to have the last word. And we don’t always have to respond in a knee-jerk reaction. Most times, it’s wise to ponder something before responding – if we need to respond at all.
In a world full of hatred, division, and animosity, we (especially if we are Christians) should rise above that and seek to glorify Him above all else.
We can’t glorify Him if our fingers are running amuck with words we should never and would never say face to face.
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