Sometimes I wonder if the fastest growing industry on the Internet is slander. It’s not uncommon to see my Twitter feed flooded with updates slamming this person or that—sometimes warranted, but usually not. And it doesn’t take long for it to get ugly.
The Internet seems to bring out the worst in people, simply because of the illusion of anonymity. Behind a screen and in front of a keyboard, the most timid soul can become a raging lion. I know because I’ve been around long enough to have been that guy at least once or twice.
I was heavily active in message board communities for close to ten years, usually related to comic books and music. Some of these had a healthy self-governing aspect to them. But others wound up devolving into chaos. And when the chaos started, it always got personal really, really quickly.
But one of the cool things that happened out of those communities is sometimes a few of us who lived in the same town would—gasp!—get together and have coffee or dinner. And it was always funny to see how much we were like yet not how we portrayed ourselves online.
And that’s what changed everything for me with how I engaged online.
We sat around, shared a meal, made bad jokes, talked about inconsequential things. We were people being real people—something that’s easy to forget when all we see is a 200×200 px avatar.
And although it’s been said many times, we always seem to forget this truth. Our lack of physical proximity, our mediated contact lulls us into a false sense of security and power. So we need to be careful. That’s why when I write, Tweet, or update Facebook, I have to ask: would I say this to someone’s face? Would I be able to look you in the eye and say whatever I’m planning to without flinching?
That’s the rub, isn’t it? If you look at what so many people say and do online, I doubt many of them would be comfortable saying these things out loud, to the person they’re talking about. That’s because when you see a person right in front of you, you’re confronted by the fact that they are made in the image of God, just as you are. They have feelings and family, just as you do.
Let’s not lose sight of that, okay? We will stand before God for every careless word, thought, blogpost and Tweet. Judging with right judgment (John 7:24) means we must not settle for cheap shots, click bait or any of the evil stuff that’s quick and easy (and in some cases, easily disproven), but is damaging and detestable. We should not be cowardly, but we should be marked by charitable spirit. We should be willing to ask hard questions and confront error, but if we’re going to do it, let’s do it while seeking the good of others.