Recently a friend of mine, lets call him Nathan, found himself in a difficult situation. Someone he thought he knew well, let’s call him David, shared a Facebook post which was at best xenophobic racism pretending to be patriotism – think Daily Mail headline and you’ll get the idea. Nathan knew there was a risk of the friendship suffering if he said nothing yet he found the post so offensive that he could not bring himself to say nothing. Should such a post be allowed to go unchallenged? In the end Nathan replied to the offensive post, stating that the “facts” in it were untrue and how Nathan was sure that David wasn’t really “that kind of person”. The friendship suffered. David immediately “unfriended” Nathan and proceeded to block him on other social networks too. To my knowledge David continued to share the occasional facebook post of a similar ilk. Given this, Nathan wasnt that bothered by the loss of this “friendship”.
What I am about to say now may surprise you: Nathan was wrong. He should not have replied to the post, he should not have called David out on it. Wait – don’t look for the reply button just yet. There’s more to this story. You see I’ve not mentioned how much time passed between David posting and Nathan replying. It was under a minute. This is too short a time to properly consider a response. Aside from this Nathan did not consider if he was best placed to call David out on it. What I mean by that is that all too often we get ourselves caught up in self-righteous anger and fire off a snotty – or even eloquently worded – response we forget to ask if any response from us at all is appropriate. To paraphrase Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park we become so concerned whether we could respond we forget to ask whether we should.
Responding to such behaviour online is a difficult area. On the one hand if left unchecked it can grow into something worse, on the other it probably won’t. The issue is that just as David when posting probably exercised less self-control than he would before saying such a thing out loud on a bus so Nathan exercised a similar lack of self-control in responding. Considerations that are automatic “offline” are often glossed-over when responding online:
- How well do you know this person?
- Is your response appropriate in measure and tone?
- Do you have their permission to act in this capacity?
We need to remember that we are not and never have been appointed the behaviour police either on or offline. I can imagine voices of dissent building at this point and I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting offensive and other “anti-social” behaviour is to be ignored in the hope it will go away. I am saying that we need to consider our response before we make it.
I have heard Christians use the story of 2 Samuel 12 as justification for them to act as a “moral compass” – by which they often seem to mean a thoughtless, narrow-minded, finger-pointer. Those people seem to forget that Nathan was a prophet “sent by God” and in all probability they are not. Looking at that story we see something about that Nathan’s approach that we would do well to remember: he did not directly accuse David but allowed him room to see his own mistake. Do we do this? Consider our ultimate role-model, Jesus. When asked to make a judgment on the woman caught in adultery, his response is far from pointing a finger at her behaviour.
By all means confront and stand up to abusive, bullying and offensive behaviour but make sure that by doing so you are going to help.