Are You Letting Your Light Shine on Social Media?
We often say things on social media that we would never say in person. How can Christians avoid this and instead let their light shine on social media?
“Why are we so nasty to each other online?”
Elizabeth Bernstein wrote the above in a 2012 Wall Street Journal article titled “Why We Are So Rude Online.” The article tackles the frequency of rudeness in the realm of social media.
Another article, published in 2018 by Psychology Today asks, “Is Social Media Making Us Ruder?”
Those are excellent questions to consider!
Why do we make rude comments on social media?
In her article, Ms. Bernstein shares some interesting research concerning human behavior on social media websites, especially Facebook and Twitter. She quotes Sherry Turkle, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and author of the book Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other.
Dr. Turkle observes that most Facebook and Twitter users feel somewhat safe to post things they may not say in person. “We’re less inhibited online because we don’t have to see the reaction of the person we’re addressing.” Dr. Turkle believes that, because it’s harder to see and focus on what we have in common, we tend to dehumanize each other, which, in turn, causes the discourteous interactions commonly seen in the social media world.
The Psychology Today article quotes author Danny Wallace’s explanation: “The latest research says that it’s actually a lack of eye contact that allows us to be particularly rude to people.”
The article continues: “A recent study from the University of Haifa in Israel, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, has shown precisely that. Its results ‘suggested that of the three independent variables, lack of eye-contact was the chief contributor to the negative effects of online disinhibition.’”
Since we interact with social media through devices—laptops, smartphones and tablets—and don’t see faces or expressions, we often overlook the fact that there are people with feelings behind every Facebook or Twitter account.
For biblical insight on the issue of rudeness, read "Are You Rude?"
Jesus Christ’s standard for social media
Today’s technology gives us the ability to make our opinions and images available around the world in a split second. As quick and easy as it is to write or share a post, it’s just as easy to cause offenses, stir up anger and lose friends. Though we all have opinions on issues, as Christians, we should be wise and careful of what we post on social media platforms.
Jesus Christ says His disciples should be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). That means we must be wise and discerning, while at the same time not causing harm to others through our words or deeds.
Instead of using our words to stir up anger or attack others, Christians should “pursue the things which make for peace” (Romans 14:19).
In His well-known Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that His followers are to be “the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). Jesus then goes further: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (verse 16).
The apostle Paul gives this standard for Christians: “Become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15).
But how are we to be lights on social media?
Kindness on social media
It isn’t always popular or easy to be kind on social media websites like Facebook and Twitter. If someone posts a rude comment to your post, it has become the norm to respond likewise. Dr. Turkle confirms, “If you get something hurtful [on Facebook], you’re not prepared. You feel doubly affronted, so you strike back.”
Rudeness is standard in much of digital communication today. But Christians need to rise above that and be different.After all, no one wants to be put down for everyone to see. But is that what a Christian striving to be a light should do? Paul tells us to “let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29). Though this verse is directly referring to face-to-face communication, this principle should be applied to all forms of communication—including online.
The word corrupt is translated from the Greek sapros, which is defined as “bad,” “of poor quality” or “unfit for use.” Our words should be the opposite of corrupt: decent, honest and honorable. We shouldn’t always be ready to launch a verbal counterattack. After all, wouldn’t we rather allow God to fight our battles (Romans 12:19-20)?
What if you’ve offended someone on social media?
Since posting on social media is so easy and sometimes we do it without giving our words much thought, it’s possible that we will inadvertently offend people. When this happens and we regret it, it’s important to acknowledge it.
As French author François de La Rochefoucauld wrote in the 1600s, “No persons are more frequently wrong, than those who will not admit they are wrong.” Sometimes we must admit that we are the offenders. And when we do, we are actively following the teaching of Jesus Christ.
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also taught the importance of reconciliation. Discussing this matter of resolving disputes, He tells us, “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar [that is, when you go to pray], and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24, emphasis added throughout).
The same principle that applies to in-person relationships applies on social media: When we are wrong or say something in a wrong way, we should admit it to the other person. When we have wronged another person by our words, we should reach out and try to heal that relationship.
Overcome digital rudeness
As we’ve seen, rudeness is standard in much of digital communication today. But Christians need to rise above that and be different.
We should strive to always be uplifting and encouraging, not only in person, but also online. And if we cause offenses, we should quickly apologize. This is part of our calling as representatives of God and Jesus Christ. After all, what we say and how we act on social media reveals what’s in our hearts and minds.
We should strive to always be uplifting and encouraging, not only in person, but also online. Take a close look and consider what you post and how you interact on social media. Have you been rude, angry or hateful? Are your words better described as the “works of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19-21) or the “fruit of the Spirit” (verses 22-23)?
Consider your posts, likes and comments over the last few weeks and months. (You can do this on Facebook by viewing your “Activity Log” on your account profile.)
Ask yourself which list your likes and comments best align with. If you see that your interactions have been a little nasty in the past, the apostle Paul gives hope: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).
Let’s make sure all our social media interactions are helping to shine a light!
For more about improving our communication, see the section on “The Joys and Challenges of Communication.”