Twitter, Facebook, the comment sections of blog posts and YouTube videos, and all sorts of Internet meeting places have turned into nothing more than virtual gladiator arenas in which we fight to the death about stuff we forget about the next day.
It’s easy to get caught up in angry Internet discussions. But I think everyone, Christians especially, really ought to consider the ways in which they communicate with others online. You don’t win an argument by being the loudest person in the room. You don’t win an argument by being the biggest jerk in the room.
On the Internet, you win an argument by keeping the discussion civil. Here are five tips to dialoguing on the Internet in a respectful way:
1. Treat others like you want to be treated.
When it comes to the standards of the Bible, I try not to get angry at my non-Christian friends when they aren’t living up to them, even though I wish everyone would try to hold to biblical standards.Christian, your job is to make disciples, not win arguments. Don’t pursue the latter at the cost of the former.
The Golden Rule, however, is a biblical principle I think everyone, regardless of religion or lack thereof, should hold to when it comes to Internet dialogue. It’s really simple: you don’t like it when you get yelled at, so don’t yell at people. The following four points fall under the umbrella of this point.
2. Lead with humility.
If I’m debating with someone online about a political, spiritual, or an otherwise controversial topic, it can be easy for me to argue relentlessly without even the slightest consideration that I may be wrong.
What if, no matter how sure we are about how “right” we are, we approach every online discussion with a posture of humility that assumes the other person may be just as right as we are? I think this would radically improve our tone on social media and otherwise.
3. Don’t use polarizing language.
I cannot stand shock jocks on TV and radio. I find them to be wholly unhelpful to intelligent, effective communication in the realm of controversy. Even if I agree with folks like this, I find them to be shrill and nothing more than caricatures of legitimate, honest ideas and positions.
Here are some examples of polarizing language:
“He is the worst!” “She is the best ever!” “I hate this!” “It’s always like this.”
When you use polarizing language like in the phrases above, you naturally limit conversation because you pushed the superlatives as far as they can go.
Polarizing language limits conversational progress.
Related note: Only one “?” or “!” will suffice. When you use “!!!” or “???” people think you’re either angry, impatient, or way more excited than you need to be.
4. Assume the best in others.
This point sorta goes back to point number one: treating others like you want to be treated. When I am talking with someone on the Internet, whether or not I know them, I do everything I can do to give them the benefit of the doubt. I know that not everyone in the world is looking to better humanity (see ISIS), but most of the people I am talking with online, even if I vehemently disagree with them, are simply trying to do what they think is best.
For example, I am pro-life. However, you will never hear me call people who are not pro-life “pro-abortion” or “pro-death.” I think to call pro-choice folks as any other name than that which they call themselves is inherently disrespectful and un-Christlike.
Polarizing language limits conversational progress. Many of these folks are truly trying to do what they think is right, and though I think they are very wrong, I owe them my respect, and I need to treat them as I think Christ would. Assuming the best in others, paired with an attitude of humility, will go a long way in effective, civil, and even encouraging dialogue (in person or online).
5. Respond as if you’re conversing in person.
This is a fitting final point because I think it does a good job of summarizing the previous ones.Too often, we discuss stuff differently online than we would in person—usually, we’re more polarizing (see point three).
It’s difficult to articulate volume and tone via static text on the Internet. Because of this, we should consider how we might phrase something to communicate with the most love and grace so as not to be heard as angry and unloving. As you’re crafting that tweet reply or that Facebook comment, pretend you’re speaking to the person. What if you were asked to read your comment aloud to the person you’re writing to? Consider these things.
Christian, your job is to make disciples, not to win arguments. Don’t pursue the latter at the cost of the former.
Originally posted here