These last few weeks have seen some terrible abuse of women on Twitter as a result of their campaigning for fair representation for women – read Vicky Beeching’s account of her experience with this here. Then we had the very sad suicide of Hannah Smith as a result of being bullied through an online site. Unfortunately, many responses have been that it is the social networks to blame, rather than nasty individuals that are using the networks. Claiming this is a little like blaming Ford for any accidents had in Ford cars on the roads. Of course, social networks such as Twitter have a responsibility to make it easier to report crime and I do think they have been rather slow to respond: however, as Vicky pointed out in her blog post, it is not the technology that is the problem, it is people.
All of this, to me, simply serves to highlight that the separation we make between online and offline (or even worse, what some people call ‘real life’ and ‘virtual life’) is damaging and unhelpful. If we think that because we are interacting with people through a device that it is somehow removed from ‘real life’ there is the danger that we will cause hurt and damage. We have just taken the old adage ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ even further into the digital age. The only response we can make is to think of how we ourselves help to keep these two worlds separate – how can we change our language and our status updates to help people to understand that in reality, there is not a great divide between online and offline, but there is a fuzzy boundary in the way we interact with each other. Each tweet, status update, photo shared has come from a human being and will speak directly to many other human beings. Write as if you are speaking to Jesus, do it all ‘as to the Lord’ (Colossians 3:23).
We can helpfully meditate on this scripture which I have adapted for Digital Disciples seeking to follow Christ:
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things when you are online and when you are offline…And the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9 (adapted from the NIV)
As with all sin, the problem lies with us, with all of us.
Join me in this prayer:
Lord, forgive us for thinking that our words don’t matter,
Forgive us for the times we have responded without thinking and hurt others,
Help us to forgive those who hate us and pray for those who persecute us online and offline,
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Image from sxc.hu