If you are a part of any social media, then you have probably had the experience or at least seen it on another’s timeline. Someone, because of virtual anonymity, who leaves a viscous comment on a blog, an aggressive or provocative reply on Twitter, or a lewd comment on Instagram.
Things get said that no one would say face-to-face. In general, there is little to no real life consequence for things said on social media.
This week there was a story about Curt Schilling, a retired major league pitcher who took to Twitter to congratulate his daughter on earning a scholarship to play softball in college.
Schilling is known to be a polarizing, opinionated guy, and he is used to getting attacked on Twitter. But, several people responded to the congratulatory tweet by making statements of rape against his daughter.
In an interview with Schilling on the Dan Patrick Show to explain his response, Curt explained that he has learned to no respond to those who attack his performance or opinions. Many people are looking to get a rise out of someone ‘famous’. But these words crossed a line, they were hostile toward his daughter. (You can read Curt Schilling’s post about this, but be aware some of the tweets he has compiled are hard to read.)
Why do so easily provoke on social media?
First, it is an issue of identity. To be mentioned in a reply by someone who has a lot of followers means that the comment-er was noticed. Being noticed provides an instant sense of value. Go to any sports or entertainment star on Twitter or Instagram and click on one of their posts. Even the harmless replies are begging to be noticed. “Please follow me back”, “today is my birthday”, or “I love you #####”.
It feels good to be noticed, and some have chosen to be provocative in order to achieve that result. In a world where everyone is shouting to be heard, people say more and more provocative things.
Second, and this is related to identity, social media gives a false sense of power. In commenting from a distance, your false self can become convinced that it is bold and clever and people don’t want to mess with you. This false power, bullying, gives me a sense of superiority.
That is why so many try so hard to shout down other’s ideas and opinions. Their identity has been challenged, and rather than thinking it through and being open to change or another opinion, it is easier to accuse and blame.
Lastly, social media allows all of us to dehumanize the user on the other end. How is it possible for adults men to casually and blithely talk about raping a young girl? Because social media has allowed them ignore her humanity; we can shatter the dignity of another because we are not there to see the emotional or physical consequences of our words.
How is it possible to tell someone, simply because they are on TV, that you hate them and hope they die of cancer? Because social media has allowed ignoring of their humanity.
How is it possible for a group of kids to litter another’s Facebook page with hurtful words? A lack of having to confront another’s humanity.
Instead of respecting another’s dignity as a human fearfully and wonderfully made, it has become easy to mercilessly tear another down without consequence.
If you have read this far and are looking for a better way, the gospel message is that our words should be chosen to intentionally build others up. Ephesians 4:29 puts it this way: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
With our words, it is not our needs that matter, but the needs of the other.
And that applies to social media as well.
How have your words been active in building others up?
Don’t forget to register for the upcoming Developing Your Identity in Christ online workshop. Use the code ‘choosetotrust’ for a discount on registration. Go to PerkinsEvents.com and pick the date that is most convenient for your schedule.
I work with those who follow Christ, to energize discipleship and improve spiritual development. I am a certified coach specializing in pastoral leadership, relationships, life transitions, and Christian identity. Also, I am the author of the forthcoming book Discovering Your Root: Developing Your Identity in Christ.
Services I offer are one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking at organizations/churches, leadership workshops, and church retreats. For more info, click here to contact me.