So you wanna speak up on social media
Ng Zhiwen // June 21, 2021, 5:59 pm
So you want to be a social media commentator.
You want to use your social media platforms to express your thoughts on issues affecting culture and society.
Welcome to the Wild Wild Web. You will be a voice in the wilderness, and I commend you for that.
There is so much noise online, and so much nastiness. Some prefer to just keep silent. Yet this wilderness is where so much time is spent, and where so many wander about seeking answers.
How else will they see the light of God in this space if His servants do not speak?
My first “public advocacy” post was on July 25, 2018.
Truelove.is had just been launched, and many were already attacking the site. I felt in my spirit that I needed to say something.
I crafted my text on a Microsoft Word document, laid it aside for a few hours, ran it by a friend and then after a prayer I clicked “post”. What happened after that was a response that I had not anticipated.
The post went viral (sort of). Various types of comments began to come in fast and furious. I felt compelled to reply to each one. Some responses turned into conversations, and there was one where I remember drafting my comments and running them by the same friend.
I held back from responding immediately each time I received a reply; there was a keen sense that I needed to craft everything with as much grace and truth as I could muster.
Better a delayed response than a knee-jerk reaction – the issues we were discussing mattered to people, not least some of those I was talking to online!
If I am to be a voice in the wilderness, I need to let God tame the wild in me.
Perhaps I was quite a noob then, but as I look back on that episode, I realise how much that was an experience of front-line witnessing – and how much such things had to be done on one’s knees, with utter reliance on God’s wisdom.
If I am to be a voice in the wilderness, I need to let God tame the wild in me.
For those of us who might also sense the call to the Wild Wild Web, let me share some reflections.
FEWER WORDS CAN MEAN MORE
Social media lets you swiftly translate your thoughts into publicly spoken words. It lets loose one of our wildest and most powerful organs – our tongue – expressed as online text.
Scripture however offers a different approach. Wisdom is to let our words be few, and especially to beware of rash words (Proverbs 12:18, 13:3).
How quick we are to turn to social media first to say something, when we are taught instead to pray without ceasing.
If we need to hold our tongue, then just as well do we need to watch our fingers on the keyboard. We do not have to comment on everything that we see.
And when we do write, we do so as ones knowing that words can be life-giving or life-taking – they may either draw people closer to Jesus or further away from Him!
LEARN TO TALK TO DIFFERENT PEOPLE
Social media is not just a place to speak. It is even more so a place to observe and to listen.
Pay attention to what others are saying:
- Are there better ways of expressing what you hold to be true, that you have seen in others?
- Do you have opportunities to listen to opposing views (a different Christian perspective or totally non-Christian one)?
- Are there things they are saying that you can agree to? Would you express those concerns as well?
- Can you discern what’s really at the heart of why someone is saying what they are saying? There is often more than meets the eye.
This is your means of vicariously learning how to communicate effectively, so that when it is time for you to speak, you can better engage a diverse audience.
WHEN EMOTIONS RUN HIGH, DIAL UP THE SELF-CONTROL
Not everyone will see things your way, and not everyone will feel the same way about the things you write about. Lots can get lost in translation. And when discussing sensitive matters, emotions can go up.
It is better to have a posture of seeking wisdom rather than trying to push a position. I learn the most by attending to those who disagree the most with my own views.
How open are you when others point out something wrong with what you have written?
Be careful of not being so locked into one way of seeing and saying things that you cannot receive advice (Proverbs 12:15).
Sometimes we also need to be aware of how our responses online can suppress rather than open the space for real dialogue and learning. Be careful not to quickly judge the heart and intent of the other, even when discussing sensitive issues.
WHAT IF I AM OUTRAGED?
The prophets of old were one of the earliest social influencers. Imagine the righteous indignation that they had to muster when rebuking the kings and priests (the powers that be) for how they have sinned.
For us today, expressing such indignation should be to the degree that we are near to Jesus, holy and humble. The more I want to vent against injustice, the more I need to be careful how I carry His presence at such moments.
It is in these times when I am most vulnerable to spiritual pride (“I am holier than you”), to feeling justified that I can be loose with my words, to just say what I want.
All the more do we need to deliberate on our words, and pray over how we will respond (Proverbs 15:1).
I think the surest way of letting our outrage be of holy zeal is to first channel that outrage towards God. How quick we are to turn to social media first to say something, when we are taught instead to pray without ceasing.
Scripture is full of godly people who cried out to God for the injustices they have witnessed. These people knew that God wants us to take our hurt and our most tortured feelings to Him, and to let them be transmogrified into something redemptive.
All the more when we are led to criticise the Church for a failing on her part. Doing this is no small matter. It requires prophetic distancing to be able to perceive the Church rightly for rebuke.
But the very next moment should be to close that distance, knowing that we are part of the Church. We grieve because it is our family that we are talking about, and so recognise that we too are responsible for her correction.
This needs to be done with love.
RESPOND WITH GRACE AND TRUTH
But what if I am the one receiving the brunt of someone else’s outrage? What if I am being abused, and my words have been cruelly twisted?
What if folks whom I know and respect are being accused of bigotry?
I hope you already accepted that lashing and taunting are par for the course as a Jesus follower.
All the more important it is before engaging on social media, that you have already made up your mind to respond with the utmost grace and truth (Romans 12:14-21), as a witness for Christ.
We are often too keen to express truth, but our words thoroughly lack compassion.
Grace and truth must go together. We are often too keen to express truth, but our words thoroughly lack compassion. You will not gain your neighbour by this.
Furthermore, I think grace means that we offer to take the conversation beyond the limitations of online dialogue.
The best conversations happen face-to-face. I often offer a meet-up over coffee to people I engage online with. Even if the offer is not taken, I must be serious and sincere in wanting to engage more substantially beyond social media.
Finally, a plural society does mean you will encounter some nasty folks who really have nothing helpful to say (Proverbs 14:7). When that happens, for your own sake, disengage!
As you battle in the wild, I hope you have people praying with you and for you; and that you will take the time to find healing and recover a sense of perspective in the presence of the Lord.
Be assured that He is there in the wild with you.
“…the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ (Mark 1:3 ESV)
THINK + TALK
- How do you react when you see/hear things that upset you?
- What are your thoughts about sharing your views on social media?
- What does it mean to be a witness for Christ?