Have you ever noticed how people say things online that they would never say to someone in person?
I was scrolling my Instagram feed several months ago when I saw a link someone had posted to their business’s latest blog post. The post was about DIY fall décor, and the photo that was posted included a pumpkin that had been painted with black chalkboard paint. “Happy Autumn” or something to that effect was scripted across the pumpkin in flowery letters.
In the comments, someone had said, “Yuck. Looks like Halloween.”
I stopped for a moment.
I knew the blogger who had written the post, and I wondered how the comment made her feel. I wondered about the commenter. What made her think it was okay to criticize someone else’s work? Would she ever walk into someone’s house, look at their autumn décor, and say, “Yuck. Looks like Halloween”?
The truth is, if the woman had thought her statement was rude, she probably never would have made it. After hitting “send,” she probably never thought of the pumpkin—or her statement—again. And I have a feeling there’s a 99.9% chance that if she’d thought the comment would hurt someone, she never would have made it.
Even so, I have to wonder: What it is about social media that makes us feel comfortable saying things that we’d consider too tacky to say in person?
If the chalkboard pumpkin incident was isolated, I might have forgotten it by now. But over the next few weeks, I noticed more thoughtless comments on various forms of social media:
A comment on a fashion blogger’s selfie: “No offense, but that dress is not flattering on you.”
A comment on a clothing company’s photo of a teenage girl wearing one of their dresses: “How can a girl wear heels that high and call herself a Christian?” (Statement paraphrased for language.)
An Instagram comment under a picture of a woman modeling modest clothing: “Love the dress, but she just looks way too worldly.”
When I read comments like this, even if there’s some element of truth to them, I feel disturbed—especially when the comments are made by Apostolic people. It seems that we’ve forgotten something we knew as children: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (I John 3:18).
If you ever check out the news, log in to social networking, or read a blog, you’ll eventually see something you don’t like. It happens to me: I’ll be pulling up Yahoo to check my email when I run across an article criticizing Christians or celebrating immorality. Or I’ll be scrolling through my Facebook feed when I see un-Christ-like pictures or statements posted by a professing Christian. When I see these things, my spirit grieves.
Yes, we will see things online that we don’t like—some trivial, others more significant. Even so, I believe it is so important that our responses in these situations be made in love—or not at all.
As humans, the emotions we experience are God-given. So how can we learn to control our emotions—and our words—when it comes to our online interactions?
When you’re tempted to criticize or make negative comments on someone’s post, article, or photo, consider these things first:
1. If your thoughts concern someone in a photo, take a look at him or her. What if, instead of a stranger, this person was your mom, your sister, or your best friend? How would you feel if someone posted a negative statement about your brother? You may not know the person in the photo, but someone who loves that person does.
2. Think of the words you’re tempted to write. Now imagine them coming from Jesus’ mouth. Are they words He would say?
3. Think of a person you deeply respect and admire. Would you be comfortable saying the thing you’re about to post online in front of that person?
4. Evaluate your motives. Are your words genuinely intended to defend Jesus, or do they mostly serve to boost your own ego or self-importance?
5. If all Christians made the type of comment you want to make, how would that reflect on Christ’s reputation? Jesus and the apostles had some harsh words sometimes—mostly for hypocrites—but their words were never intended to tear others down, highlight someone’s flaws, or cause strife.
6. Will your comment uplift, enlighten, bless, or provide hope? Is it obvious that your comment is being made in love?
7. Have you considered taking a moment to pray for the person or situation involved rather than speaking your mind?
There are times we should take a stand for what we believe in; there are times we should speak up. But how often when we see something we don’t like, do we stop and pray before typing out that scathing statement? Do we ever consider bringing our concerns to God before handling them with a critical comment? Will anyone be won over by our criticism? It’s unlikely: criticism is rarely birthed from love.
Our speech, oral or written, should be “seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:5-6) and motivated by love (I Corinthians 16:14).
The Christian walk is not a contest to see who can find the most fault with others: it is a race against time to see how many souls can be won to the Lord. We are more likely to influence people toward Jesus by living out authentic Christianity than by criticizing them. As Apostolic Christians, may we be intentional about using our words to show love and respect to others.