Those of us who are active to any extent on social media have, no doubt, written or said something that we wish we could retract. All of us have, at times, forgotten that there are divinely given rules of engagement for the social media realm–even as there are rules of engagement in the day in and day out personal interactions we have. It is all the more important for us to broach this subject on account of the fact that there are many negative examples online. There are many who seem to throw out any and all rules of engagement when they get behind a keyboard–as if writing something from the confines of your couch and instantly posting it for the world to see makes you immune to the biblical principles of godliness and wisdom to which God holds us accountable. A few years ago, Kevin DeYoung wrote a creative and helpful post titled, “The Ten Commandments of Twitter,” in which he sought to address some of the things we should put into practice in our use of social media. I would add to Kevin’s 10 commandments, 5 rules of engagements about what and when to say something online:
1. Use God-honoring and Christ-exalting speech. Jesus teaches us that “for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment” (Matt. 12:36). I often wonder, as I scroll through twitter, Facebook and blog posts, how many idle words are being placarded before our eyes. We must always be in the process of vetting ourselves and our words before posting them online. We should ask ourselves the question, “Is what I am writing pleasing to the Lord? Is the way in which I am responding to something in accord with the counsel of His word?” When we realize that what we write online should be for the praise of His glory and the exaltation of the Redeemer, it will be reflected in what we say and how we say it online. Be assured of this, we will give account for every word we write online.
2. Learn what battles to fight. As the old adage goes, “Pick your battles wisely.” We don’t have to speak to every issue that rushes across our computer screen. The internet has fueled, to the nth degree “the tyranny of the urgent” and the court of public opinion. Anytime we feel the urge to write or Tweet something, we must stop and ask the question, “Is this a battle that God wants me to fight at this time?” Add to this the fact that social media has become a platform for others to hijack the political, ethnic and religious emotions of the public. When someone’s emotions are hijacked they tend not to think rationally. When we’ve allowed our emotions to be hijacked, we rarely stop and ask ourselves the question, “Do I need to respond to this particular controversy or issue online? Or, have others already responded to it adequately?”
3. Respond to criticisms with patience. When others seek to hijack our emotions by means of outrage, provocation, sarcasm and just plain meanness, it’s incumbent for us to respond with wisdom, humility, meekness and gentleness. If we decide that we should respond, we should seek counsel before doing so. More damage has been done online by impulsive and reactionary responses to criticism than by almost anything else. We have all made the mistake of thinking that we must vindicate ourselves when we are attacked online. Instead, we must learn to be patient, prayerful and punctilious with our responses. It is vital that we learn how, when and if to respond criticisms.
4. Discern the kind of person with whom you are interacting. This is arguable one of the most important–yet least modeled–of all the rules of engagement on social media. Just as we would seek to be discerning in the world of personal interaction, so too we must be discerning in the world of social media. Asking whether the person we are seeking to respond to is a wise or a foolish individual is paramount to whether or not we should respond. Before responding to anyone who comes to us with what appears to be a loaded question or harsh criticism, we should seek to discern whether this is someone who would sincerely receive our words. Usually you can learn this simply by viewing the interaction that a particular individual has had with others on Twitter or Facebook. If they have a track record or defensiveness, sarcasm, bitterness or contention, you would be wise to walk away rather than respond. The Proverbs tell us that if we correct a scoffer, we will only harm ourselves (Proverbs 9:7), that we should not answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes (26:4), and that “If a wise man contends with a foolish man, whether the fool rages or laughs, there is no peace (29:9).
5. Interact with people, not pixels. Social media is meant to be just that…social. Recognizing that there are different opinions about this, I personally believe that interacting with people is an important component of social media. When someone is seeking to interact with you on a personal level (in a non-intrusive or vitriolic way) consider entertaining that interaction, if time permits. Additionally, giving people an avenue into your personal life–albeit in a measured and appropriate way–can be a good thing. Just as we can discern what sort of person an individual is by viewing their interaction with others, others should be able to discern what sort of person we are if we expect them to read what we write. If we simply want to propagate truth without interacting with individuals, we should write books for publication. While having to vigorously guard against false-presentation, narcissism, self-aggrandizement, platform building, humblebrag and every other evil under the sun with which we are tempted in the world of online media, we need not fear interacting with others on a personal level and giving them an avenue into our lives. There is a balance to be gained, for sure. We need to protect our spouse and child(ren), just as we need to protect ourselves. Great wisdom is needed here–as is true about how we respond to others online.