Being Lights in Cyberspace
“Whether on Facebook, Twitter, message boards or websites, we say things to each other that we would never say face to face. Shouldn’t we know better by now?”
“Why are we so nasty to each other online?”
Elizabeth Bernstein wrote the above in a recent Wall Street Journal article titled “Why We Are So Rude Online.” The article tackles the frequency of rudeness in the realm of social media.
In the article, Bernstein shares some interesting research concerning human behavior on social websites, especially the most popular, Facebook and Twitter. She quotes Dr. 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.
With all the different devices at our disposal—home computers, smartphones, tablets—people are overlooking the fact that there are people with feelings behind every Facebook or Twitter account.
Dr. Turkle says, “Many people still forget that they’re speaking out loud when they communicate online.” On smartphones, she says, “you are publishing but you don’t feel like you are.” Our posts from that small device seem just as small and insignificant. But are they?
The example of Jesus Christ
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, it’s just as easy to cause offenses and lose friends. Though we all have opinions on issues, it is appropriate that we, as Christians, be wise in what we put into the world of cyberspace.
Jesus Christ, in His well-known Sermon on the Mount, said that His followers would 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” (Matthew 5:16).
The apostle Paul further states that, as Christians, we should want to do good “that you may 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).
How are we to be lights in the context of our presence on the Internet?
It isn’t a popular thing 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.”
After all, no one wants to be put down for everyone to see. But is that what a light is supposed to 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 referring to face-to-face communication, this same concept must be applied to our actions 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. Perhaps responding with kindness would do much better than a counterattack. After all, wouldn’t we rather allow God to fight our battles (Romans 12:19-20)?
If we offend
French author François de La Rochefoucauld wrote, “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 the Sermon on the Mount, Christ reinforces the importance of reconciliation: “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).
Making apologies for offenses should be first priority for Christians.
If being rude is the standard in emails, social media sites and blogs, we as Christians should act contrary to that standard. We should always be uplifting and encouraging, not only in person, but also online. Also, if we cause offenses, we should quickly apologize. This is part of our calling as representatives of God and Jesus Christ.
Paul complements Jesus Christ’s words by stating, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).
Let us go forth and shine our lights!
For more about improving our communication, see the section on “The Joys and Challenges of Communication.”