How to Avoid Being Constantly Offended in the Social Media Age
In a world where people are constantly offending and being offended, how should a Christian react when he or she is offended?
It seems everywhere we look, we see people offending and being offended.
Take, for instance, the Jan. 18 incident with a group of boys from Covington Catholic High School and a Native American elder in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. A short video of the incident that went viral was originally posted on Instagram and reposted on Twitter with a misleading caption. The video showed an apparent confrontation between a student and a Native American elder.
Many were offended by the teenager’s behavior and the implication that he and his friends provoked the conflict. But when the full video in context was seen, many news organizations offered apologies for mischaracterizing the students.
Another recent incident that provoked widespread offense and outrage was in Israel, where an art exhibit depicting a Ronald McDonald on a cross (dubbed “McJesus”) had to be taken down after violent protests.
Events that people find offensive—justly or unjustly—quickly go viral in our social media connected world. It seems people form opinions (usually without all the facts) quicker than ever and then express their outrage through emotional posts and comments online.
No doubt about it, there are plenty of things in our world today to disapprove of. There are many evil things that should bother us. But the questions we are asking here are, should we constantly be offended, and how can we avoid being offended?
Offense is big business
News media outlets are in constant, intense competition for our attention. They know that people give more attention to things that make them angry and offended, so that’s the kind of content and stories they often seek to share. Media outlets have mastered the art of exploiting our emotions in order to direct our attention to their content. Few people stop to realize their emotions are being manipulated and exploited to view and share stories that sometimes are not even fully true.
Historian Niall Ferguson has noted that our feelings and emotions have become more important than truth and reason. He writes, “We no longer live in a democracy. We live in an ‘emocracy,’ where emotions rather than majorities rule and feelings matter more than reason. The stronger your feelings—the better you are at working yourself into a fit of indignation—the more influence you have. And never use words where emojis will do.”
People are becoming more passionate and expressive about their point of view to the point of expressing it publicly in anger.In an increasingly polarized world, we seem to be drifting in vastly different directions concerning how society should run and what our values should be. People are becoming more passionate and expressive about their point of view to the point of expressing it publicly in anger.
Jeff Deist, president of the Mises Institute, has commented that we live in a society that has shifted to the “politicization of everything,” causing deeper divisions between people.
Mark Smaller, past president of the American Psychoanalytic Association and expert in online bullying, says, “What I think exacerbates anger, or at least is part of the heart of the problem and part of the complexity of the problem, is social media.” Social media is being exploited to manipulate people’s emotions, particularly toward anger.
So how should a Christian react to offensive content?
Dealing with and avoiding offenses
Christians should give maximum effort to avoiding offending others, especially since reconciliation with an offended person is very difficult (Proverbs 18:19). The apostle Paul wrote that he would sacrifice things he could lawfully have if it helped him avoid offending others (Romans 14:20). The principle is that a Christian should work hard to avoid offending others—and that applies to the kind of content we share and the comments we make on social media.
But how can we avoid being offended by others? After all, we can’t control what others do, but we can control how we respond. Sometimes it’s best just to not look at the kinds of social media posts that make us angry in a way that does nothing to solve the problem. Other times we may have to pray for God to solve the outrageous situation, and then stay out of the social media fray. Sometimes we may need to patiently endure and forgive those who offend us.
Jesus took the same approach, in a much greater way, when He was being tortured during His crucifixion. He responded by practicing the opposite of being offended—He showed mercy and forgiveness toward the deceived people abusing Him (Luke 23:34).
David and Jesus set excellent examples of how to avoid constant offense in the social media age!