We Christians sometimes struggle to use social media well.
Rather than going out of our way to be clear, we choose to aim for “pithy and incisive” and instead land squarely in “muddled and misunderstood.”
It’s predictable on some level. Social media readers (and here, I’m thinking mainly of platforms like Twitter or Gab) tend to reward those whose posts are punchy, snarky, and meme-able. Everyone loves a good pile-on; there’s a certain warm camaraderie in adding your voice to the chorus of “Look at that guy—what a doofus!” As a result, when we post our own comments and memes, we instinctively revert to middle-school “gotcha” mode, chasing after our mutuals’ “oh snap” replies and GIFs and those precious “shares” and “likes” that affirm our rhetorical prowess. (Please, Mr. Dorsey, just plug all that ephemeral affirmation directly into my veins!)
Sometimes, however, the slings and arrows we are so quick to let fly at our online ideological foes can be based on less-than-complete information or may communicate with all the subtle finesse of a rusted claw hammer.
If we are indeed disciples of He Who Is The Truth and obedient servants of the God Who Does Not Lie, then it seems redundant to say that we should be truthful in all of our interactions, including those online. I’ve talked about this in the past, with regard to the stories and articles we share online. But I would also venture to propose the following three bits of advice for our daily digital dialogues:
- Part of love “believing all things” may just be assuming the best when someone who is otherwise demonstrably orthodox says or posts something that may be unclear/confusing. When that happens, walking in love could mean starting by asking questions to gain clarity, rather than assuming heterodoxy of a brother. If the issue is minor, it could even mean letting a post go without saying anything. (I know, that’s crazy-talk when someone is wrong on the internet.) And if the issue really does need to be addressed (and you actually can gain a hearing from that person, rather than just being another stranger shouting online), walking in love means addressing it publicly but in a way that is not self-aggrandizing or belittling of the other person. If the person is a Christian, entreat them directly as a brother or sister. Don’t play to the audience.
- The flipside of that is, when we post things online, we should be willing to rework our pithy, “retweetable” construction if we realize our readers find it unclear or confusing, especially when (for example) we’re dealing with weighty matters like theology or sensitive issues related to sin or suffering. Zingers get buzz, but they don’t often build up. If you come to realize that you should have said something more clearly in order for it to be of benefit to others, don’t be too proud of your turns of phrase not to “kill your darlings” and try again in order to communicate something important in a way that is direct and digestible.
- If you do tweet something that you later realize was ill-informed, poorly communicated, or insufficiently considered, don’t double-down. Just acknowledge it and move on. Seriously. Don’t employ tortured logic to contort your original post to mean something entirely different (or at a minimum, tangential) from its plain original reading. If you goofed, say you goofed. If you missed the mark or overstated something, admit it. If you want to add more context to explain things more clearly, or remove/repost with a correction/explanation, go ahead and do that. But don’t insult the rest of us by asking us to disbelieve our “lying eyes” as if the fault lies entirely with us. If you find that a dozen people are all “misinterpreting you” or “taking you out of context” the same way, it’s more likely a “you” problem than a “them” problem.
Am I now seeking to be the social media police because I’ve raised this issue? Yes. You’ve caught me; that’s exactly my desire. All online traffic needs my approval, with proper forms filled out and stamped in triplicate. You’re exactly right.
OR… perhaps I’m just a Christian who gets frustrated that so much of the sturm und drang of my Twitter feed could be avoided if (presumptive) brothers and sisters in Christ would stop trying to be social media influencers for a minute and just seek to be honest, clear, and edifying with their (online) speech. You know, the way we’re told to be. (In other words, I think we should seek to be salty rather than spicy.)
I’m far from perfect in this area–my Twitter “drafts” folder is a barren boneyard of half-baked takes and snarky responses–but I sincerely want to grow in wisdom with how I use social media. At the end of the day, it would be better for me to lose the miniscule “platform” I’ve built and shut down all my accounts for good, rather than become a known and influential online figure who profanes the Name by my sinful speech, conducting myself as little more than a banging gong or clanging cymbal.
I’m still thinking through all this, so if you have ideas/disagreements, or if I’ve missed something obvious that should factor into my thinking, I welcome your pushback and am happy to discuss further. Hit me up in the com-box below.