I love Twitter. I like Facebook because of blog traffic,1 but I love Twitter for engagement with human beings. Whenever I’m at a conference, I wind up spending time with people who I primarily know from their teeny tiny profile picture on Twitter, and it’s amazing to be able to put flesh and blood (and a life-size image) to someone I might forget to treat as more than pixels.
But there are things I hate about Twitter and Facebook—often having to do with folks who are charged up about a particular hobby horse, a serious issue, or whatever. These are the people I’m most tempted to block (and often do): hashtag hijackers who spread lies and/or unsubstantiated gossip, or folks who seem to relish the fall of fellow believers. I really struggle to know what to do with these people because, well, I’m really tempted to respond to them and rebuke them.
But that’s not always the best response, as tempting as it might be. Instead, it often winds up getting you into flame wars and makes an awful mess—and depending on your job, it can get you in serious trouble at work if you’ve got a corporation or ministry’s reputation to think of. Instead, there are a few ways that are more helpful—and almost certainly more befitting of a Christian:
Focus on what is praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).
The most helpful thing we can do is focus on what is excellent, true, praiseworthy, pure and commendable. Share good blog posts and quotes. Like and retweet edifying updates. Leave comments with constructive criticism when you come up to a post or status update you’re uncertain about. But always try to give praise where it is warranted.
Do not offer immediate response to negative material (Proverbs 12:18; James 1:19).
When I read status updates or tweets I strenuously disagree with or I find are, frankly, downright evil, the worst thing I can do is be rash with my words and respond quickly. James tells us to be slow to speak for a reason. I may either say something that is unwise myself or potentially add fuel to a fire of foolishness.
Know when to engage with difficult people (Proverbs 26:4-5).
Similarly, we read in Proverbs to both, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” There are times when we should engage people who are saying peculiar or unhelpful things. But there are many times we shouldn’t. The vast majority of inflammatory comments on something you share on a blog, Facebook or Twitter aren’t worth reading, let alone responding to. The person making the statement is looking for validation in that they want to be heard, whether what they say is true or not. So don’t give it to them if you can help it.
Ignore those who’ve already been warned by others (Titus 3).
If someone has a pattern of unhealthy and unhelpful behavior on social media, chances are they’ve already been warned by someone else to stock acting like a ninny. If they’ve shown no indication that they will change, the unfollow (and block) button is your best friend.
Remember the point of engaging anywhere (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
“Encourage one another and build one another up,” Paul wrote. All our communication between fellow believers should have this goal in mind. This doesn’t mean play the part of a sycophant; that sort of behavior demeans everyone (including the person on the receiving end of such behavior). Rather, it means even our negative statements should be offered in a spirit of familial love for a brother or sister in Christ. Our goal is never to be the rightest person in the room, but to build one another up and encourage.
None of this, again, suggests you can’t engage civilly about error, or even straight up say false teaching is false teaching. What I am saying though is that we should not be in the habit of being angry on social media since that’s not remotely close to any sort of fruit of the Holy Spirit. And I’m also the first to admit that I’m terribly inconsistent with these principles. I have engaged with discussions that are probably not the best far more often that I should have. I have been guilty of being uncharitable to others or occasionally sharing something that was actually unwise.
But despite my inconsistencies at time, I really have found this approach extremely helpful as I seek to represent Christ online. Lord willing, you’ll find it helpful as well.
- I’m being “real” here. ↵