Let’s say you are one of Jesus’s people, and so you are deeply concerned with justice, community and the integrity of a life lived out loud. These three are related. Integrity requires that you speak out and take risks for justice. Community requires that you speak the truth in love, and in ways that strengthen the human family.
And let’s say you are active on social media, and you bring your justice-community-integrity concerns to those platforms on the regular. Are there better and worse ways to do that? I’ve made enough social media mistakes to have some suggestions. See what you think.
- When it comes to posting (let’s use that to encompass posts you generate yourself, along with sharing other people’s posts, tweeting, retweeting, etc. ), narrow your scope. Be intentional in choosing one or two justice issues you feel truly invested in. Perhaps choose one that relates directly to your own experiences, and another that is not about you. Practice integrity by letting your posts reflect your honest investment, not only in your virtual voice but IRL, too. (Mine are justice for women in Christian communities; justice for LGBTQ+ people in North American, Protestant churches and North American culture; with a Texas public education wing. In case you were wondering.)
- Once you’ve defined your justice investment, do your homework.Become educated in the broad strokes and the finer nuances of the main issues and related topics. Keep an index of links to reputable sources, reports, articles, and studies to share with people who want to learn more about what you have learned. As much as you can, testify to your personal experiences; you are an expert in what you have lived.
- Most justice issues are not reducible to simplistic solutions; and oversimplification is not persuasive to those who disagree with you, or those who don’t yet know what they think. Therefore, eschew memes. (Except for the “Sup girl” Mark Wahlberg social science memes. Those are indisputably hilarious.) Mostly, facile memes about complex issues are not making the world better; they are not helping us think better. They pretend that issues have binary poles, and aren’t we moving past the binaries in all kinds of ways?
- On issues that aren’t your own, if it feels important to speak out in solidarity, share something other than an opinion. Share your grief or anger, your hope and your heart. Use “I” language. Whenever possible, connect your virtual expression to an IRL action. Like, “I am heartsick and furious over the school shooting in Santa Fe, TX, and praying for real change this time. I’m spending the afternoon writing letters to my congressional reps, again.”
- Resist the rocket-fueled pace of social media, and slow your roll. Combat the pressure to weigh in early. Write your justice-y posts in a word processing document. Edit for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and tone. Put in a load of laundry; drink a cup of coffee; meditate and pray. Come back to your document. Read back through your last 10-20-30 social media offerings. Does this one contribute something new, something helpful? Copy, paste, and post away. Not so much, or not the right time? Save it. You can always use it later. Or not.
- When the comments turn into combative conversation, do the privilege math. Meaning, who are you “talking” with, and who are you to them? Be especially aware if your role affords you power or special responsibility. For myself, that means being constantly aware that even when I’m voicing personal opinions, the hearer is likely to hear me as a pastor, maybe even their pastor. Or as a white person. Or as a cis-het person. There’s often an inherent power differential to which I should be sensitive. It also means, on issues in which someone else’s personal experience trumps my non-personal interest, I defer, and listen respectfully to their perspective even if it’s not kindly expressed.
- If someone lights a fire in the comments on your post, practice de-escalation. “Hey, friend, can you say more about that?” often draws out a more considered, less incendiary response. For which you can always say, “Thank you.”
- When you’re commenting on someone else’s stuff: respond in proportion to your IRL relationship with the poster. You may have more reason to admonish or argue with (or even agree with) your actual friend whom you see often than someone with whom you have a passing acquaintance or have never even met. And don’t assume that being family gives you a pass to speak as you wish; relatedness is not the same as relationship.
- As a reader, recognize the parts of a greater whole. A public post is often the tippy-tip of a submerged, icebergian mass of wonder and doubt, fear and hope, rage and exhaustion. It’s easy to mistake the part that arrives on your screen as the poster’s whole range of thoughts and feelings on an issue. But what’s under the water? Do you have sufficient relationship with the poster to try and find out? If not, steer clear of that iceberg and sail on.
- If your social media engagement takes a dive into conflict that is working against your commitment to community, take it private and offline. Send a message to the real live human being behind the “other side” of the argument and invite them to coffee, or a beer. If it’s someone you don’t want to have coffee or a beer with, then why are you arguing online? See #8, above.
- If you’re able to resolve a conflict that began online (even if the resolution is, “we agreed to disagree and stay out of each other’s hair”), post the resolution in the same comment stream. More people than you know have witnessed your relational train wreck; their anxiety levels have gone up on your behalf; and it would be so gracious, so good for the world, for us to have examples of people who disagree working it out in civil discourse.
- Sometimes it’s even best to erase the mistake. I am committed to being transparent about mistakes I’ve made in public, but I sometimes use delete (a) to remove false information, like that time I tweeted a rumor about a school shooter that turned out to be false (he did not have ties to white supremacist groups); or (b) to let someone else off the hook for something they typed in haste. “Love keeps no record of wrongs,” it is somewhere said.
Overall, how about this: imagine that what you’re typing is what you’re saying, out loud, in a roomful of people (and all the people they know, and all the people they know) quietly listening to you speak. If it’s not something you’d say face to face to those people, it’s okay to leave it unsaid. If you decide to speak, imagine that all those listeners have the prerogative to talk back to you, to contest what you’ve said. Be ready to stand firm if you’re speaking from your well-informed heart.
Social media amplifies everything – our best ideas and our worst expressions of them. Be brave; be care-full; be Christian. Peace.