For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. –James 3:2-10
Wow! That’s a lot of power that the Bible ascribes to the tongue! What’s interesting to me is that, as powerful as the tongue is, the 21st century’s social media possiblities has turned everyone’s mouth into an instant, global, permanent bullhorn, if they so choose. Below you’ll find some keys that I think are important to keep in mind when posting online:
- Negativity is louder online, so try to remain positive. It’s like you’ve got a megaphone when you’re posting on Facebook or Twitter. Instead of responding to a few friends, you’re actually speaking to hundreds or thousands of people. When you let drama or outrage or anger take over, you’ll end up sending those emotions even stronger than if you were in person just speaking to a couple of people.
- You’ll probably never win an argument online. If you want to debate, Facebook or Twitter probably aren’t the best places to start. If you see someone has posted something inviting controversy, and you step in the middle of it, you’ll probably end up just adding noise to the argument rather than shedding light on the truth. Resist the temptation to step into the fray.
- Gossip online is the same as in person, only louder. If you would have to whisper it to say it in person in a crowded room, you probably shouldn’t repeat it online. Gossip, by its nature, doesn’t spread good impressions about others and falls into the category of negativity, so filter yourself online. Remember what Proverbs 17:9 says, “Whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.”
- Leave criticism to critics. When you criticize your boss, your co-worker, your workplace, your school, your teacher, your church, your friend online, you certainly risk that it will be seen by them or repeated or, worse yet, reposted. None of the people or institutions will likely get back to you on it, but it will diminish your relationship and credibility with these folks, and you may not know why.
- Many likes and comments may backfire on you. Outrage and drama blow-up online response, but can end up tainting your real social and professional sphere. If you’re wanting to be taken seriously in real life, you may wish to read everything you’re putting online through a lens that asks, “What if my rival or my boss or my mother read this?” This may help you avoid becoming perceived as the outrageous online drama king or queen.
- Do confrontation in person. Conflicts and confrontation happen most ideally in person. If you have something important to say to someone you’re in conflict with, do your best to say it in person. Too many people end up learning that the message they thought was perfectly clear in email or text or even on Facebook or Twitter was painfully misunderstood. Social media is rarely an ideal place for hashing out anything with anyone. Even when attacked head-on, I do my best never to respond to it online.