There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18
Twitter is dying.
It has been dying for a few years. A couple of years ago Google Plus was going to kill it. That didn’t happen. Then its lack of ad revenue, its lack of a sustainable business model, its lack of innovation—all those things were supposed to kill it and didn’t. No, what is actually killing Twitter is something much more fundamental. And much worse. It turns out that Twitter users, and users of social media in general, are just plain mean.
In an article on Medium, Umair Haque says “The social web became a nasty, brutish place.” He writes:
We once glorified Twitter as a great global town square, a shining agora where everyone could come together to converse. But I’ve never been to a town square where people can shove, push, taunt, bully, shout, harass, threaten, stalk, creep, and mob you…for eavesdropping on a conversation that they weren’t a part of…to alleviate their own existential rage…at their shattered dreams…and you can’t even call a cop.
And Hague is right. Twitter started as a place for micro-blogging, became a place for click-bait, and then finally devolved into identity politics, bullying and abuse, often by entire mobs. This abuse, Hague argues, “will chill, stop, and kill networks from growing, communities from blossoming, and lives from flourishing.”
This is not just a problem for Twitter, of course. You see the same thing on Facebook or any other online platform. Human nature is on display everywhere, and it is often not pretty. People pound on each other, and pile up on any one with a view that is not their own. That’s where Christians come in, or at least the ethic we espouse, and ultimately the apologetic we offer.
Although we are “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks [us] for a reason for the hope that is in [us],” we are to do so, the Apostle Peter insists, “with gentleness and respect.” Gentleness and respect are what the social web desperately needs. And Christians should be raising the level of discourse online, not lowering it. These historic but often unpracticed Judeo-Christian values provide the framework by which we judge the meanness of the internet in the first place. This is consistent through out New Testament teaching, such as Paul’s command that we “show perfect courtesy to every one.”
Please know I am not confusing courtesy with tolerance. I am not suggesting we accept, condone or promote that which is evil. The Apostles didn’t do this. Christ didn’t either. What I am saying is that our reasonableness should be always apparent, forgiving others as God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven us. We can even forgive Starbucks for red cups without snow flakes.
“Reasonableness,” translated moderation in some places, means many Christians have to turn down the volume of their online conversations, release their anger, trust their God. People should feel invited into our conversations, even if they disagree with us. We should be trying to understand their view, even when we can’t accept it. We should listen more, talk less, pray often. Our place on the internet should be a welcoming, redemptive place.
This is the model we can offer, and people are hungry for it, even if they are starting from a different place. This is how Christians can save the internet, by proving it can be a place where grace and mercy flourish, their own corner, at least, filled with healing and with hope.
For weeks I have cautioned Christians about the dangers and challenges of social media. But I turn now to its great opportunity, not to beat people down but to build people up. Salt, light, leaven, fruit—these are all positive metaphors for Christians in the world.