I am someone who does not like confrontation, but, like everyone else, I have opinions on many subjects, some of which I have shared online. At times, this has led to a social media debate, and suddenly I find myself having to defend my beliefs or further explain my point.
How do you or I, as Christians, engage in social media conversation in a biblical way?
With the amount of time most of us spend on social media, it’s a relevant question for all who seek to speak the truth in love on the social media platform. But how do we do this? What are some guidelines that can help us to stay true to our convictions and yet extend the love of Christ on the internet?
Sometimes, engaging with the online world wisely means knowing what not to do. BibleStudyTools.com editor Rachel Dawson writes about some things to refrain from doing on social media in the Crosswalk.com article, “Social Media Mistakes Church Leaders Should Never Make.”
Although highly applicable to church leaders, the guidelines apply to all believers. One important example is to remember that you likely have a wide-ranging audience on social media. Thus, writes Dawson, “How about we consider before sharing that a close friend, a family member, a stranger, a church leader, and a child are reading? Let’s view our content through those lenses before we post.”
For more on what not to do when engaging others on social media, see the rest of the article here.
It’s perhaps fairly straightforward to know what not to do, but that still leaves the question: what should we be doing on social media?
In his article “How to Debate on Social Media and Not Lose Your Soul” for Relevant Magazine, John Pavlovitz shares some helpful guidelines for how to have fruitful social media discussions.
1. “Love the trolls, don’t feed them,” says Pavlovitz.
This means we need to exercise discipline to be able to differentiate between those who are just trying to elicit a reaction from us and those who are actually interested in seeking the truth and having a discussion. When we know someone is only engaging with us to provoke a hateful response, we need to learn to not reply back in kind.
Another important thing we should seek to do when engaging with social media, says Pavlovitz, is:
2. “Remember who you are.”
It’s tempting to want the vast world of social media to know where we are coming from, but that is generally just not realistic. Just because someone has seen all your pictures, read all your tweets, and scoured the descriptions of who you are does not mean that they truly know you. This is an important point to remember when you feel defensive on social media.
“The key to not losing your soul on the Internet is in remembering that someone else’s perception of you is not your reality. Just because someone places a label on you, doesn’t mean you have to wear it. You are the only one who knows your truth, so never let those who know less about you, define you,” says Pavlovitz.
Another important guideline for social media interaction is that,
3. “Time is always on your side.”
When someone engages with us on the internet, especially if it is negative, our reaction tends to be to want to strike back right away. As kids, we were taught to count to ten when we got angry before blurting something out; the same line of thinking applies on social media. Take a breath, think through your response, maybe even write something out, don't click send, and sleep on it. Both you and the person you are engaging with will be better for it.
What guidelines do you follow when posting on social media? Do they edify you and those with whom you interact?
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Veronica Neffinger is the editor of ChristianHeadlines.com