Are you an online coward?

It’s been interesting to follow the recent controversy dubbed ‘Yumi-Gate‘, where hosts of The Circle Yumi Stynes’ and George Negus’ comments on air about war hero, Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith, has met with a barrage of backlash. Extreme vitriole was levelled against Yumi Stynes in particular, and most of it online. Certainly what they said was silly and insensitive, but as this opinion piece in the SMH notes, enough is enough. Given that they had apologised personally to Corporal Smith and were forgiven by him, it’s equally amazing just how unrelenting the hate-campaign has been.

We certainly live in a different world now. Social media is an instant, constant, global, and permanent way of expressing one’s opinion and creating a ‘mob-mentality’. Witness the hate-campaign against former Masterchef contestant Joanne Zalm, or the backlash against Kyle Sandilands. Or a little closer to home, any time a Christian expresses a view in the public forum, scroll down to the comments section and you’ll see just how angry, irrational and excessive the comments are from those who disagree.

Why is it that Twitter, Facebook posts, comments and blogs open the proverbial Pandora’s Box when it comes to hate-speech? Quite simply it’s because we are cowards. It’s easy to shoot a verbal arrow at someone when you’re hiding behind an online wall of safety. Most of what’s said would not be said if it were a face-to-face confrontation or debate. Social media has given a whole bunch of cowards a voice, and the democratic nature of publishing nowadays has ensured that all opinions are treated equally, even if they are cowardly, irrational or hate-filled.

I’m not here to change all of that with this post. I just want to challenge God’s people to be different. It’s easy to ‘vent’ on Twitter and Facebook. It’s easy to post a thoughtless comment or a blog-post, knowing that people are going to read it, but not realising that we might hurt someone in the process. It’s far easier to post a comment or a tweet rather than give a personal and gentle rebuke, if rebuke is actually necessary.

This is a challenge for me as well as for you: don’t post anything critical against someone unless you have explored other means of giving them that feedback. If you really feel like someone on Facebook needs a piece of your mind, why not privately message them? I’ve received a few of these in the past and have been grateful to be able to consider them. Sometimes I’ve posted thoughtless words and have had people private message me about that and was then able to pull the messages off the wall.

Just because we’re not using our literal ‘tongues’ doesn’t mean that God cares any less about how poisonous our words can be (James 3:6). Let’s not be cowards and hide behind technological walls.


About Pete

I am a child of God, a husband, a father of four children, a pastor, and a church planter. I live in Sydney Australia and live to see Jesus made famous in this city and be the only God people worship.

Posted on March 8, 2012, in Christian Living, Media, The city and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Hi Pete,

    As a follower of media and someone interested in most things most days, I suspect that Christians tend to err in the opposite direction on this question. We are a little bit scared of seeming angry, we are a little bit timorous, we certainly wouldn’t want to be thought uncharitable, and so we remain silent.

    On the specific issue you raise, I don’t think I’ve heard any Christian, publicly or privately, utter a single whisper of complaint against either Yumi Stynes or George Negus!

    But thank you for not citing Matthew 18


  2. Thanks Pete

    Good observations & a good call to Christians. Let’s be ‘a peculiar people’ (I can’t resist that KJV phrase from 1 Peter 2).

    I’d be interested add to why you make private messaging a focus, though. I think of myself, for instance, as speaking publicly when on social media or blog. Therefore public correction befits the situation – as much as I know it hurts!

    Perhaps the wisdom is seen in discerning what can be ignored, what can get a private message, and what can go public. No matter where the wisdom is, though, godliness is always the call.

  3. The show the Circle was bombing, it was coming 3rd in the ratings for it’s timeslot now and cancel 10 are keeping her on, waitin for it to die down then putting her somewhere else. It was just a convienent excuse to get rid of a failing show.

  4. Thank you Pete.

    And on a similar vein, since being a late-starter to Facebook, (and I think I’m just glad I’m not glad I’m on Twitter), I’ve noticed that otherwise lovely people have absolutely no issue with slagging off perfect strangers who really do nothing offensive (masterchef contestant Callum comes to mind.) I’ve never known how to rebuke a friend in that situation, not wanting to be seen as taken things too seriously.

    And I’m sure I’m not innocent of never whingeing or complaining or even boasting on Facebook.

    In this instance, I don’t know if it’s so much about hiding behind technological walls but maybe social media reveals more of our true nature than we’d reveal face-to-face. Maybe a change of heart is more necessary than a taming of the virtual tongue?

  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Pete.

    I for one have become very tired and disheartened by the social media landscape.

    I have noticed over the past year that there is an increasing amount of anger, hatred, outrageous remarks and snide comments being shared on Facebook and in comment sections of news websites. It’s not the kind of content that I want my mind filled with.

    If you are going to make a comment online, think about this: would you say this in person or in a real-life social setting? If not, then don’t post it online!

    You are just as accountable to God in your thoughts, spoken or unspoken.

  6. Well you are a pastor, your kind basically invented hate speech & antisemitism, promoted slavery, looked away during the holocaust..and I would say this all to your face because you are powerless.

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