|If you play the fool and exalt yourself, or if you plan evil, clap your hand over your mouth! – Proverbs 30:32
Here it is, translated for social media: “If you are tempted to slam someone online or brag on Facebook or send off a nasty tweet, turn off the screen and walk away!”
That’s it in a nutshell, but maybe we should spell out some rules of thumb that might keep our thumbs and fingers from wandering off into slander, arrogance, or combativeness. Here are six that work for me.
1. Pray Before You Post
My friend Suzanne wrote a great online devotional in which she talked about how many people run to check their Facebook page first thing in the morning. She encouraged her readers to instead make sure they consulted their “Faithbook” first — the Bible. How true this is! Perhaps if we spent time ingesting words of truth before we switched on the computer, we might not write things that are unkind or hurtful. At the very least, we should whisper a prayer before we post, asking the Holy Spirit to tap on our hearts if we are tempted to post anything online that would not glorify him.
2. Imagine the Recipient Sitting Next to You
The Internet is so impersonal. We see tiny little thumbnail photos of people. We see words typed out on a screen rather than hear them spoken out loud. The pixels-and-pictures environment almost compels us to be rude because it lacks the subtle social cues — the wince, the moment of quiet — that tell us we’ve crossed the line. We feel empowered and also have a sense of anonymity as we tap, tap, tap away on our keyboards. But if a flesh-and-blood person were sitting next to us with eyes we could look into, perhaps we would state things differently. Before you post, ask yourself if you would say things differently if the person to whom you’re writing were actually sitting next to you.
3. Remember: When You’re Online, You’re Also on Stage
Unless we send a private message, our online words are available for others to see. Twitter followers see what we tweet. Facebook friends, and the friends of those on whose walls we post comments, also see what we say. And hundreds, if not hundreds of thousands, of people can see a comment we leave on someone’s blog. This reality should certainly cause us to pause before we post — especially if there is even a remote possibility we might later regret what we write. If I say something in person to a friend and am later convicted I was wrong, I can go back to my friend and apologize. However, if I post something on social media or comment on a blog and later want to retract it, I have no way to chase down all of the people who might have seen the original comment. Just this fact alone should cause us to really weigh our words before we type them out.
4. Ask Yourself If You’ve Earned the Right to Address the Subject at Hand
If friends on Facebook are hashing through a hot-button issue of the day, do you have any expertise in the area, or are you only slinging an underinformed opinion? We can’t always be an expert on every topic at hand, so when we aren’t, we might do well to refrain from commenting at all.
5. Ask Yourself If You Have a Close Enough Relationship with the Person to Warrant Offering Your Opinion
It both irks me and makes me laugh when I see who hops on my page to offer their unsolicited opinions. Suddenly, people I haven’t heard from in years pop up on my screen offering their pixelated opinion about something I’ve posted. They give me specific instructions and pointed advice on what I should believe about a particular topic. This always surprises me because I don’t have a close relationship with these folks. Why do they think I will take their advice or value their perspective on my issues when they have not been a close friend or confidant?
Would they be responsive to unsolicited advice if someone they knew years ago suddenly walked up to them on the street and started telling them what to believe and how to act? If you’re tempted to dole out unsolicited advice to anyone who’s not a trusted friend, then I encourage you to resist the temptation!
6. When You Do Speak, Let Your Speech Be Laced with Grace
No need for snark. No need for angry words or critical comments. Our mamas were right: If we can’t say something nice, we shouldn’t say anything at all.
When we do speak, we can choose to be gracious rather than accusatory or negative. Our words must glorify God and not just exalt our own opinions.
We should be especially mindful that there are people whom we don’t know who might be viewing our online speech. Here is a great guideline from Scripture:
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. – Colossians 4:5-6
So maybe we should jot down these questions on a sticky note or two and post them near the computer to remind us to ask:
- Is this comment wise?
- Will writing this comment help me display God’s love to outsiders?
- Is this comment full of grace?
- Is this comment seasoned with salt?
- Have I asked God if this is the best response?