About being a jerk online

When we started this blog a few months ago, I was became anxious about a few things. Would I do it well? Could I be consistent with both message and content on a week to week basis? But the biggest thing I was worried about was……the dissenters.

Because, people can be jerks online.

I have been thinking about this for a while, especially after reading the comment sections of some blogs I read.

And, I wonder….if any of these commenters were face to face with those they disagreed with, would they be so bold? When it came right down to it, would the commenters say the same things if the “digital veil” were not drawn?

You see, the internet makes us very bold, indeed. When the (perceived) consequences are diminished, we are freed up to say things we wouldn’t normally say and demonize people we have never met face to face.

I am a big fan of an artist named Derek Webb. He is a musician and writer who started with the folk-christian group, Caedmon’s Call. Basically it was his music that provided a soundtrack for my college years.

In the last few years he has dropped some of the pretense of being a “christian artist” (really, that is a subject to be discussed later) and started dealing with the issues of the world in a more honest way that has garnered a lot of criticism.

To put it short, he became more liberal. And that drives folks crazy apparently.

I love the guy. While I don’t always agree with him, I think he is fascinating and a great songwriter to boot. He will often say things or write on his blog about things that get people thinking (and sometimes upset). So, he gets a lot of the mean-spirited comments, especially from Christians in response.

Because of this, he posted this satirical blog about how to deal with someone you might not agree with online.

I think this is just hilarious, especially in light of how I see people act online. People I know and respect in “real life” will post things online that really make me cringe. They will take a political or social stance on an issue and assume that everyone who is a christian agrees with them. And, if you call them on it, get ready! You will have a fight on your hand.

So, after reading Derek’s post and considering your online persona, consider these questions as you post or comment online:

  1. Is what I am writing online reflective of the way I would address a person face-to-face?
  2. How well do I know this person that I am criticizing?
  3. Turn the tables around: what if this person you were critisizing was your son or daughter? How would you respond to the person who is speaking this way to your child?
  4. Finally, how well are you representing Christ as you write?

This is not to say that we shouldn’t disagree online.

We just shouldn’t be jerks about it.

Your thoughts?

3 thoughts on “About being a jerk online

  1. Well this is the stupidest thing I have ever read, and it just show how stupid all your stupid is.

    But seriously, yeah I agree.

    I tend to be pretty opinionated, and since I spend the majority of my life with 3rd graders or my own two young children, sometimes I feel like the inter-web is one of my only opportunities to voice an adult opinion. That being the case I blog a lot and tend to use Facebook to get on a soapbox. My experience has been that those loaded blogs and comments can often draw the attention of individuals with an absolutely polar opposite opinion. Combine that with an angry demeanor and a big vocabulary, and the comments section can all of a sudden get pretty interesting.

    The reality is that people who put things out there for the public to consume should get ready to hear the opinions of every crazy person with a keyboard. Once their stuff is out there, then it is no longer just their stuff. People are going to see it how the want to see it and the door has been opened for any trolls that happen to wander by. Its like you said, some people like to get the thrill of being in conflict without having to be held accountable for the outcome. It is today’s version of telephone tough guys.

    That being said, I don’t understand the liberties that some people take when they are talking to or about others. Disagree with an opinion or theology all you want, but we should all be guarding our tones. Some of these on-line dialogues that go back and forth between disagreeing parties have really been quite educational and can give me a lot to chew on, but sometimes people go too far. There is a different in not agreeing with an idea and being hateful to a person. Thoughtful online dialogue is a great byproduct of this amazing technology, but the flip side of that is the way our society is starting to lose the ability to be heartfelt without also being jackasses.

  2. Back in the days when I was able to blog consistently, I was blessed to have a few regular “dissenters.” Some of whom I knew, some I didn’t. Those who use the interwebs as a place to say things they wouldn’t dare in person are disturbing. However, even more disturbing are those I encountered who use the same combative tone in all their disagreements. I met a number of pastor/minister types who claimed that it was their divine calling to “speak the truth” – and if the person they confronted wasn’t offended, they seemed to fear they had not spoken the truth clearly enough.

    I think there are several factors which lead to this problem.

    1) We are broken people. I don’t buy the total depravity business, but one cannot deny the pervasive sinfulness that dwells within us…and tends to show itself in very ugly ways.

    2) God’s sovereignty (as understood through medieval code of justice and honor) is deeply embedded at the core of much of Western theology. God is most certainly sovereign, but when that characteristic is wedded to justice by the sword and then elevated over God’s other characteristics, it is no wonder that truth and brutality become intertwined.

    3) As Christianity became more and more entrenched in the dominant culture, solidarity with the marginalized was replaced by the preservation of power and influence. In such a context it is expected and acceptable to use whatever force necessary to keep others in check (not unlike the “Pax Romana”).

    4) We know that these things are not healthy. Unfortunately, rather than repenting and realigning our movement, we laid a thin cover of politeness over our ungodly doctrines of power. Over time we lost the ability to handle conflict in a productive manner – we either avoid it to remain polite, or we attack.

    The problem isn’t that we aren’t polite…its that we don’t understand peace. We can’t fathom a sovereign God, except by comparing that God to the sovereign kings and governments of this world. We have no concept of power which does rely on force and coercion. Therefore we cannot conceive of dealing with conflict except through domination.

    Early in our tribe’s history, Barton Stone said he couldn’t stand debates (even though it was a popular form of entertainment in addition to its other purposes). The reason? Debates are about winning – defeating your opponent through better use of rhetoric – not truth seeking understanding. As a result few people are convinced of anything by debates, they simply retreat further into their corners. Those who are convinced only remain so until someone with better rhetoric comes along.

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