What would Jesus tweet? Or what would He post on Facebook?
These questions are pertinent as we struggle to deal with the effects of social media in our lives. I believe that the sudden rise of social media – a reflection of advances in the Information Age – has outpaced our ability to manage it. That is, we have developed no social norms, “manners,” or generally accepted sensibilities associated with it. It has simply hit us too fast, and frankly, we don’t know how to cope with it in our lives.
Making matters worse, social media allows us to disconnect from other people. In this disconnection – being physically apart – we lose the sense of impact our words and actions can have on others. Posting something on Facebook is much different than actually sitting down and having a conversation with that person. I am quite sure that some of the things said through social media would never be said directly to those involved if the person “speaking” were actually standing in front of those persons.
Sometimes, harsh words – even politically oriented words that separate people – can be akin to throwing a grenade into a crowded room and running away. The effects of those words can be very damaging. Countless people have defriended others on Facebook because of their opinions on social issues or even the recent presidential election. Were those “friendships” contingent on a social or political view?
In those unfortunate situations, usually the estrangement did not come about because that person did not respect their former "friend’s" different opinion, but rather because of the harshness of the words that came from their friend – things that would likely not be sad if they were sitting and talking to one another.
I believe we have lost civility in social media and we have lost our connections to other people. Those connections, in person where we can see the other’s response and be accountable to it, is part of the human social structure. That connectedness has taken a hit these last twenty years in ways few would have predicted.
I have had to mediate arguments between adults that arose because they were angrily texting each other back and forth from their offices about an issue that could have easily been solved if they had simply sat down together and vowed to find a compromise. And here is the best part: Their offices were twenty feet away from each other.
So, I might suggest that not only is our ability to connect with others through real face-to-face conversations part of what makes us human, it is also part of what makes us humane.
I lament the fact that relationships have been hurt through social media. People don't talk to one another anymore because of what happened on Facebook. Friendships have been broken. Even family members are estranged. Fact is, all of that could've been avoided had they simply thought about the effects of their words or actions on their “friends” or “followers”, and had they simply been in the same room. What you say and how you say it become two very different things when you are not limited to 140 characters and are sitting across from another human being.
So what would Jesus tweet? What would He post on Facebook? Hard to say for sure. But Jesus did also have “followers.” And if we look at what He said to them, we find that even when He was angry, (a) His anger was oriented at preserving the holiness of God, and (b) He expressed His anger appropriately and with love.
We are at our best when we communicate through love when sitting across from one another, and when we – even for a moment – put ourselves in the shoes of others. God help us remember that, and give us the strength of character to take responsibility for the effects our words have on others.
Let us not only be human, but also humane.