The advent of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) has made it possible for us to be connected, albeit loosely, with people literally around the world. We post pictures about our daily lives and make comments on all manner of topics from the mundane to the sublime. Even though all users have identities on these media, our comments are essentially anonymous. The fact that they are made in cyberspace, rather than face to face, makes it tempting to say things we might not otherwise say. As a result, comments can be derogatory and hurtful, if not downright mean. Even among professed believers comments can get out of hand.
This brings to mind the story of a new rabbi who was constantly berated behind his back by a businessman who was a member of his synagogue. After many weeks of this, one of the other synagogue members confronted the man and reprimanded him for his behavior. Chastened, the man went to the rabbi to ask forgiveness and to make restitution. The rabbi told him to take one of his most expensive down-filled pillows up to the highest hill outside the village, scatter its contents to the four winds, and then return to him. The man complied with this request, and when he returned, the rabbi instructed him to go back and gather up all of the feathers. The man objected that this was impossible, to which the rabbi replied that so it was with gossip. Hurtful words, once spoken, can never be retrieved, and the damage they do cannot be undone.
This story illustrates a potential danger inherent in social media. When we make comments we have no idea how far they will travel, or what damage they may do. What we may have intended for one person can literally travel around the world before the day is done. Whatever our motivation may have been for making the comment, it is soon beyond our reach, either to correct, or to retract. Even if we later apologize, there is no guarantee that all who saw the initial comment will also see the apology. The damage will have been done and it cannot be undone.
This is an especially important truth for Christians. Our words are to be “with grace, as though seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6). We are commanded to speak “only such a word as is good for edification . . . . so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). We are also commanded to treat others in the way we want them to treat us (Mt. 7:12). We are warned that the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity, which can set a great forest aflame (Jas. 3:5-10).
These commands apply to every facet of our lives, even the things we post on social media. When the prophet Nathan confronted David over his sin with Bathsheba, he told David that his actions had given the enemies of the Lord an occasion to blaspheme (2 Sam. 12:14). Christians who post hurtful words on social media are just as guilty as David was. When we act like the world, whether in word or deed, our connection to Christ is compromised, and we give unbelievers an opportunity to mock the Lord and His church.
We must thoughtfully consider every comment we post online. We must do so, first, because scripture commands us to speak only that which edifies. Second, we must do so because of how far our words may spread and what damage they may do. Third, we must do so because of the Golden Rule. None of us appreciates it when others speak badly of us, especially in a public setting (which social media is), so we should never do so to others. We must let our light shine before others so they will see our good works (and words) and glorify our Father in heaven (Mt. 5:16). This applies to everything we say and do, even on social media.