If I could boil this blog post down to a single sentence, it would be this: Don’t be a troll. I’m not talking about those cute little fellas with the crazy rainbow hair. I’m talking about the kind of troll who. . .
. . . sows discord on the Internet by starting quarrels or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal, on-topic discussion, often for the troll’s amusement. (Thanks, Wikipedia!)
Trolls, it seems, are here to stay, along with many other nasty side effects of living in a digital world. But we don’t have to be among them. In fact, this is one area where we have an opportunity to live as salt and light that believers in other eras did not.
While I understand the temptation to fire off an angry thought in response to a post we don’t agree with or to vent on our personal social media pages, I don’t think it’s fitting for God’s girls to be social media trolls. Here are two reasons why.
Reason #1: We should be builders, not destroyers.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear (Eph. 4:29).
It’s true this verse is about what comes out of our mouths, but haven’t our keyboards and phones become a mouthpiece of sorts? We use them to communicate how we feel and think just like we would if we were talking person to person. The standard Paul outlines here is intense.
We don’t say anything that corrupts (hurts others).
We do say words that build up (help others).
Paul is asking us to keep the listener in mind when we talk rather than just ourselves, the talker. (Or in some cases, typer.) Instead of asking, “Will this make me feel better?” before we speak, we pause and consider, “Will this build the person on the other side of these words up or tear them down?”
Reason #2: Every word counts.
Check out Matthew 12:36: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.”
Every. Careless. Word.
Clearly, our words matter a great deal to God. Why? Because the words that come out of our mouths reveal what’s really happening inside of our hearts (Luke 6:45). The truth of Scripture is that it’s impossible to say what we don’t mean. Our words work like a peephole into the true condition of our hearts. We won’t be held accountable for our words simply because words matter to God, but because hearts do.
God’s Word offers timeless truth for every generation. Researchers have started calling you iGen because your generation is uniquely marked by your constant use of social media. Since the Internet is such an important part of your daily lives, it’s worth taking some time to pause and consider how these truths apply to how we act online.
Five Checkpoints to Pass Through
To avoid careless words that do not build others up, consider the following questions. Think of these like checkpoints or gates that your words must go through before you hit send.
1. Is this helpful?
Does this comment help others understand you better? Does it help them understand God’s truth better? Always be on the hunt for ways to help not harm.
2. Is this winsome?
Winsome is an old-timey word I’d love to see infiltrate our modern vocabulary.
Here’s an official definition:
Generally pleasing and engaging often because of a childlike charm and innocence. (Thanks, Websters!)
I like to think of winsome as an attitude that may win others over. These attitudes are the opposite of winsome:
If you can’t say what you want to in a way that is pleasing don’t say them yet. (Even if the hearer doesn’t agree with your words, your delivery can be calm and charming.) In every debate the goal is to win, right? When our words are presented in ways that are not winsome, everyone loses.
3. Is this worth fighting over?
Paul’s words found in 2 Timothy 2:23 could easily have been written just for us in the Internet age.
Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.
I have three little boys. As little boys tend to do, they often get into quarrels about things that don’t matter. When they do, we stop and say this verse together and then I ask this question:
“What’s more important the (NERF gun, stick, book, toy) or your brother?”
Their little heads drop as they say “my brother,” because they’ve been reminded that for a moment they lost sight of the fact that fellowship with their brother is much more important than whatever it was they were fighting over.
We need this reminder too, right?
What’s more important, speaking your mind or your Christian brother or sister?
What’s more important, being perceived as “right” or your Christian brother or sister?
What’s more important, defending your position or your Christian brother or sister?
Many of the things we bicker over are foolish controversies. It’s best if we can just walk (or click) away.
4. Does this honor the Imago Dei?
In Genesis 1:27, we read that all people are made in the image of God. Bible scholars call this the Imago Dei, and it’s a truth that really, really matters! Every person you encounter online is made in God’s image. Jesus thought that every person you encounter online was worth dying for.
That changes things. It means we don’t treat people (a.k.a. image bearers) as if our opinions matter more than they do. It means we care less about being right and more about human dignity. It means that God loves people so we should, too.
5. Does this communicate grace?
For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace (John 1:16).
Grace is undeserved favor. Through Jesus we have received grace on top of grace on top of grace. We don’t deserve His gifts. We don’t deserve His forgiveness. We don’t deserve His acceptance, yet He gives them to us by the dump truck load. That’s grace.
As Christians, we are agents of grace. Our job is to give grace upon grace away to others as a way celebrating what God has done for us.
If someone posts something that makes you angry, give grace.
If someone takes something you wrote the wrong way, give grace.
If someone is bashing your faith online, give grace.
If someone disagrees with you, give grace.
Grace upon grace, that’s our goal.
Life Beyond Likes
I’ll warn you, this approach likely won’t make you go viral. Controversy attracts attention, and graceful restraint often doesn’t. Let’s avoid being trolls anyway because the Internet needs some salt and light, doesn’t it? Someone has to step up and be kind. Why not us? Why not the readers of this blog? Why not today?
PS: If the wheels in your head and heart are turning about what you post online, consider checking out this post from our archives, “6 Questions to Ask Every Time You Post” and this post from ERLC.com, “4 Ways to Think Through Which Social Media Hills to Die On.”