Originally the title for this post was going to be “How to Respond to Social Media Trolls”, but it didn’t seem fair to the Trolls. Those cute little fuzzy creatures always get a bad rap when it comes to social media.
All joking aside, now that I’ve been blogging, I’ve been exposed to a whole new world of social media interactions that I’m just not used to. Some of them are quite flattering. Others have been uplifting and encouraging. Some people send private messages of how they have gone through similar situations, and it helps this journey not feel so unbearably lonely.
But then there’s a side to social media that is just downright nasty. I’ve seen it before, especially when it comes to political, religious or social justice issues. I’ve seen the back and forth bickering. Two people who’ve never even met each other thinking that they are going to change each other’s minds once they hit “Reply”. I don’t know, maybe it happens. Maybe someone concedes and actually changes their stance because of a social media battle…I just haven’t seen it. Mostly, I don’t participate in it.
I’m not a confrontational person. I don’t typically like to argue or debate. There’s a reason I chose flowers and butterflies for my design and not guns and grenades. So it was somewhat shocking when not too long ago I found myself, or at least my blogger alias, being crucified for a comment I had made on social media. I wasn’t even trying to make a political statement or contribute to any debate. I was just expressing my appreciation and personal opinion about someone who has meant a great deal to our family.
Granted I should have known better than to comment on a polarizing figure’s post. I should have known the firestorm that was going to ensue. I should have known that vultures were ready to devour me as soon as they smelt blood. All of this now in hindsight. Hard lesson, but you live and learn.
So here are some things I learned from my brush with social media death:
Not every comment deserves a response. I went back and forth on whether or not I should reply to the shots people were taking at me. Part of me felt like someone needed to put these people in their place. But when I thought about it more, I felt like a lot of these social media warriors have an agenda and nothing that I say or do is going to change their minds and neither were they going to change mine. In fact, they just made me that much more firmly planted in my stance. 2 Timothy 2:23-24 says, “Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people.” Also, my momma always taught me that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. So I kept my mouth shut.
Every person needs prayer. While not every comment deserves a response, every person needs prayer, especially those who mistreat you on social media. Matthew 5:44 says, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was persecuted on social media, not with my handful of followers any way, but I still need to pray for these people. We all need prayer to be more gracious and respectful to other people. We can disagree, but we need to do it without tearing down another person.
Be gracious. I’ll be honest. When I read those comments, I cried. How could someone who didn’t even know me speak so harshly towards me? All it took was one word and a question mark and I felt crushed. Sometimes we forget that the person sitting on the other side of the screen is a real person with real feelings. Titus 3:1-2 reminds us to “be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.” I wonder if those people had taken the time to get to know me and why I responded the way I did, perhaps their response would have been more gentle, more kind, more humane. And I can’t help but think that because of the way they responded, they too must carry around some hurt or wound that caused them to respond the way that they did. I’ve heard it said that hurt people, hurt people.
You can’t overcome evil with evil. Even though I wanted to hurt them the same way they had hurt me, I knew that it wouldn’t solve anything. I’d be no better. Not only that, but we are commanded not to repay evil for evil. Romans 12:21 says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” As much as my flesh wanted to do a “I know you are but what am I” comeback, I knew that it wasn’t right. I need to overcome evil with good.
Restore gently. There are times however, when truth needs to be spoken and a wrong needs to be made right. We are told in Galatians 6:1, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” Here’s the sad part. Even if these people were correct in what they were questioning me on, I was so turned off by their tone and lack of gentleness that I didn’t want to hear it. I was not even open to what to they had to say…and that’s awful. Because what if I truly was wrong and what they had to say was the correction that I needed. They missed out on a perfect opportunity to help me because I couldn’t see past their hurtful comments. On the other hand, I have seen instances where two people disagree with each other and are respectful and kind. Those are the types of conversations that need to happen more often. I think that kind of dialogue can bring about real change.
Don’t make private things public. One of the things I think we struggle with because of the ease and accessibility of social media is that we tend to make private matters public. But if you look at the biblical model set out in Matthew 18:15 it says, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” (emphasis mine). I could be wrong, maybe people send private messages or go out to coffee and point out each other’s faults and then just continue to air out their grievances in public because that person still refuses to listen. It’s possible, but not probable. If you truly care about whatever cause you are championing or about helping to correct a fellow brother or sister in Christ, sometimes it’s best to do it privately. Who knows? You’re biggest adversary might be won over because you didn’t shame or humiliate him in public, but you restored him gently in private.
I have seen too many people whose lives have been destroyed by social media. They had someone comment or post something about them that wasn’t true or was only partially true, and other people jumped on the bandwagon and ruthlessly annihilated that person. Their jobs were lost, ministries damaged, and families torn apart. I haven’t even gone through a fraction of what they have, but I can tell you that social media crucifixion hurts. I don’t want to be part of that, I want to be better. Hopefully these lessons will serve as a reminder on how I need to respond in the future.