I have been involved in Facebook and Twitter for quite a while. Many foolish things have come from my accounts. Most of the things I have said through these avenues have added no value or have been downright damaging to someone. Sadly, the good, helpful things I have said over social media categorize the minority of my activity. I’m not happy or proud of that. I need God’s grace even in how I engage with others over the Internet.
I have learned the hard way some important things about the nature of social media and online activity. Maybe my mistakes can help deter some of you from making the same.
- Resist the temptation to speak quickly. There is something about Facebook and Twitter that encourage its users to react instead of respond. My former boss, Jonathan Yandell, used to tell me about the difference between these two things. Reacting is mere instinct. Responding includes time and thought. Facebook and Twitter encourage reacting. “Like” this, click that, say this. And reacting often leads you to say things you would not have said if you took a little time to think and pray about it. Remember James 1:19–be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath. This is particularly important because what you say online is likely even more important than what you say to someone face to face. Why? Because theInternet doesn’t forget. Once typed, your words exist as long as the Internet does, and anyone with a connection can find out anything you’ve said. Remember this: every time you say something on Facebook, Twitter, or a blog, you’re also writing it on your resume’ for your dream job.
- Remember there are real people behind usernames and Twitter handles. Another danger of social media is that it is very easy to treat a picture and a @handle as something less than human. Sure, it is less than human. It’s just an avatar. But the avatar represents a real person. And people are to be treated as people, not as inanimate objects. Would you and I say what we’re about to type to the person’s face? No? Don’t say it online.
Another thing to consider related to this is how the words you type will be perceived. For example, USING ALL CAPS IS THE EQUIVALENT OF SHOUTING! Also, there is no such thing as a sarcasm font. How many times have you heard the excuse of “It’s hard to hear the tone of what I’m saying.” Let’s just stop using that excuse. Everyone knows that tone can’t be read. But I’m still accountable for how I write things. So that means I have to be very careful about how my words can be perceived.
- Guard your heart. In the past I have allowed my heart to become bitter and prideful toward people solely based on online conversations. What you say on Facebook matters for the good of the other person, but it matters, maybe even more so, because of what it can do to your spirit. Writing online can lead you to say things and think things you wouldn’t normally think or say, and these things impact your heart toward others and toward God. Be careful, and be repentant.
- Give people the benefit of the doubt. Not many people will remember that you are a person behind your Twitter handle or Facebook profile. They will assume the worst about you when you are trying to be clever. They will only point out the wrong things you say and never spotlight the good things you say. They will take your words out of context. They will creep. They will say hurtful things about you. They will challenge your thoughts publicly.But let me encourage us all to assume they have the best intentions. Assume that if they said anything hurtful, they did not intend it that way. Imagine they are right in front of you when you’re thinking of what to say in response. Smile. Remember the many times you said something stupid to someone online. Most importantly, remember the One who gave His life for you when you were His greatest enemy–His accuser, even. Then, depending on the importance of the discussion, wait. Then pray. Then wait. Then, if you must respond, do so in love and with admittance of your faults and filled with grace.
I don’t have all these things figured out. I still say things online I wouldn’t say in real life. And I have to apologize and seek forgiveness from people and from the Lord. But there is grace again and again. I’m most thankful for that–even in my social media life.