Imagine you gave a newly invented weapon to a child, who has no prior knowledge of how modern weapons work. How safe would you feel standing near that child? Needless to say, you would feel very uncomfortable, knowing that the probability of that child accidentally hurting themselves or others is extremely high.
Now, consider that in the millennia of earth’s history, social media as we understand it today, has only existed for just over a decade, and as such, no clear rules or boundaries have been established regarding how to use it properly and safely, both for ourselves and others. And unlike other technologies, no one is any more experienced, and so we are all like children, learning how to use a new weapon. Except instead of one child, there are millions, making social media platforms essentially battlegrounds with no clear rules of engagement.
However, while we are still trying to discern the rules of engagement for this new battleground, there are guiding principles which can ensure the safety and integrity of both yourself and others.
BE SLOW TO POST
The three principles we will discover are all based upon this premise.
‘My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry’ -James 1:19
Social media provides the opportunity to share opinions and express thoughts, but it can also encourage a highly reactionary and impulsive attitude to discourse or sharing. Therefore, it nothing else remember: be slow to post
1. AVOID CONFLICT
The stereotype is unfortunately not far from the truth; all it takes is a small scroll down to the comment section on any platform, and you will find ALL CAPS RANTS, offensive slurs and arguments leading nowhere. The internet too often serves as a debating ground where everyone shouts but no one listens (the exact opposite of James 1:19). Often, there is a temptation to insert oneself in the debate, but although such motives may be pure, they are more often than not futile and should largely be avoided.
If, however, someone has personally attacked you on social media, a different response is required. If someone has brought the conflict to you, do not respond with the same impulsive anger or ad hominem they utilise. Instead, give a calm, rational and open response.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. –Proverbs 15:1
If this requires you take a few minutes to contemplate your response, or if you require time to process the initial emotions the inflammatory comment or post directed at you instilled, so be it. Discover what strategies allow you to formulate an appropriate response. Attempt to continue the discussion in the comment section so as to allow transparency, but if after their second response, their attitude continues to be argumentative, continue discussing in private messages, to ensure both the integrity of yourself and your opponent is maintained.
2. BE AWARE
The internet is a dangerous place, in that it allows ordinary people to effectively play the rule of judge, jury and executioner; an incredibly harsh and volatile rule of engagement. Ordinary people are empowered to be the arbiters of virtue and vice, and any deviation from these opinions are frequently met with harsh retribution.
Whenever you post on social media, you must understand that you surrender all power to the interpretive community, and as previously discussed, social media is not the friendliest of places. Even something you may consider to be innocuous, may be interpreted as highly offensive, and potentially be followed by judgment and online ‘execution’.
For example, Justine Sacco tweeted what she claimed to be a ‘satirical joke’ to her 170 followers before boarding a flight, only to land in Cape Town to discover she was the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter worldwide. Criticised for her ignorant humour, she received a bombardment of threats, demands for the loss of her job, resulting in her refusing to leave her home for over a year and half, for fear of public scrutiny; all because of one tweet that the internet deemed grossly offensive
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. –Matthew 10:16
Be aware and be Vigilant, that social media is a harsh battleground, and anyone is open to criticism and scrutiny, including you. Before posting anything, consider whether your post could be misinterpreted. Sometimes context, tone and intent, can be ‘lost in translation’ online. Contemplate whether your post is worth the risk of misinterpretation. Even when posting something very clear and precise, be aware that even still not everyone will agree with you, and there potentially could be negative consequences. Following this principle, you minimise the risk to you exponentially, and avoid unintentionally contributing to ongoing conflicts on social media.
3. POST PURELY
We’ve all had that existential crisis, “should I post this or not?” To answer this prevailing question, use the following criteria:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think [post] about such things. Philippians 4:8
Consider not only that the image you portray on social media, influences the way family and friends perceive you, but also potential future employers. Many ambitious and promising candidates have lost job opportunities, because their social media did not reflect the criteria the employer was seeking. Be wise and contemplative when questioning whether to post something and consider what the post says about you in relation to your values, ethics, character and personality.
Furthermore, do not restrict this principle to public posts only, but also to private messaging and private posts as well. The way we behave when no one is watching, or with complete anonymity, is the ultimate testament to our principles and values, and is the true measure of our character.
So, do we have all of the rules of engagement for social media? Not by any means. We are very much still in the learning process. But these guiding principles will help us to navigate the complex landscape of social media, so that we can ensure the safety, dignity and protection of everyone in this brave new world.
Remember, be slow to post, avoid conflict, be aware and post purely.
By Christopher Petersen
 To hear the full story of Justine Sacco, I highly recommend the following:
How One Tweet Can Ruin Your Life (TED Talk): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAIP6fI0NAI
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