When I was six years old, I hit my friend in the head with a wooden block. This was no tap on the head. I doubled down, wound up, leaned in, and knocked him out. My offense, however, was not unprovoked.
He told me to do it. So I did.
My friend explicitly asked me to hit him in the head with the block. It all began when we were cleaning up our blocks after playing with them. Rather than physically walking the blocks to the storage container, we thought it would be easier to throw them across the room into the box. This proved to be a good idea, albeit briefly. After flinging a few blocks, one of them hit me in the head. I began to cry while he began to panic. Then, in a moment of brilliant insight, he told me to hit him in the head so that we would be even. This tragic-comedy ended with us both goose-egged and crying.
In several ways, this story describes many of our online interactions: The Internet is a rumpus room full of people flinging verbal blocks at one another. Social media allows for an infinite number of ways in which we can fling, chuck, hurl, throw, lob, catapult and ultimately clobber one another with hurtful words. And, like my childhood experience, everyone flinging these blocks ends up bruised and broken. No matter what you call it—cyberbullying, trolling, or digital vitriol—it is a problem.
Social media is not the most charitable place in the world. (I think the IRS is more charitable than most digital spaces). But the followers of Jesus can shine His light into these digital spaces by turning against the tide and being charitable in how we think and speak about others. Followers of Jesus can—and should—do something to combat the verbal blocks being flung about on social media.
Think Before You Post: This sounds painfully obvious. And yet it is painfully overlooked in online interactions. It is very easy to bear false witness about others online because that person is not directly in front of us. Social media creates the perfect environment for putting false words in people’s mouths and minds. In a “post first, ask questions later” culture, the people of Jesus are called to a higher standard to pause and think about the fallout of their actions. Ask yourself: Am I somehow lying about my neighbor with this post? Am I putting the best construction on this person? Am I being kind in my assessment of this individual? Consider Exodus 20:16.
Digital Encouragement: Social media is an encouragement desert. Everyone is too busy posting about how cute their kids are, how great their dinner is, or how awesome their vacation is going. When everyone else is patting their own backs, why not do the opposite and publicly encourage someone else? Speak a kind word about someone else. Say something constructive about another person. Share your appreciation and respect for someone in your life. You will be amazed by how just a small word of encouragement can make a big impact on someone else. Consider 1 Thessalonians 5:11.
Defend A Reputation: Online interactions are tricky because it is all public. Someone says something harmful or hurtful, and it is out there for the world to see. This makes it particularly hard to intervene in a situation and defend someone’s reputation. However, the best way to handle this is to be discreet and tactful as you defend someone else’s reputation. If possible, pick up a phone (interestingly enough, smartphones can actually be used to call people) and call the person who is spreading hurtful words. If a phone call is not possible, use a direct message or personal note to contact the person. It is important to remember that, even in defending someone else’s reputation, we must assume the best and be kind toward the person we are rebuking. Consider Proverbs 20:19.
These three practices are but a few of the many different ways that the followers of Jesus can be charitable on the Internet. These practices won’t completely transform the internet; still, these are ways that you can remove some of the verbal blocks being flung about online.
Learn more about what it means to be a Christian in Rev. Sutton’s upcoming book Clearly Christian .
© Concordia Publishing House