L ast May, I had the unique opportunity to watch a post on my personal blog go viral. It was picked up by lots of Facebook friends, LDS websites, and random blogs. Within one week, it had gained over 140,000 views (to put that into perspective, I usually felt pretty cool to hit 100 views in a month on a post). As those views increased, so, unfortunately, did the negativity. I watched as complete strangers skipped over the message of my post to go straight after me, ripping apart my character, my testimony, and my worthiness. Though a good 70% of the comments were positive, the negative comments were often very cruel and very loud. Most came from people hiding behind anonymity, but many came from other church members who used their pictures and their names to tell me how terrible they thought I was. I vowed to read every single one of those comments. I stopped because of how badly some of them hurt.
When I read what some people said, I wanted to lash out. You didn’t have to click on it! I wanted to comment. How dare you say something like that. You don’t know me at all! The post I had written was about being Christlike, and ironically, there I was, not wanting to turn the other cheek, but to slap someone else’s. I only kept myself from doing it by realizing that I now knew how it felt to be attacked online. How could I do that to someone else? Had I let my anger dictate my behavior, I would have acted just as badly as those who hurt me and those I wrote about in my blog. I was not feeling nor acting very Christlike, and that was humbling to realize.
The truth is that it can be very easy to not be Christlike when we’re online. This especially happens in public forums or comment sections where opinions are very strong and heated. If we aren’t careful, we can slip into contentious online conversations, and we can act in a way which disciples of Jesus Christ should not act. Though the world loves using the Internet as a tool to shame, fight, and bully, we cannot use it the same way. It is absolutely necessary that we act Christlike online instead of using the Internet to hurt others — as Latter-day Saints, we should really know and act better — and there are ways in which we can do just that.
1. Check your emotions before you check ‘send.’
One thing that most of us are pretty bad at when it comes to the Internet is waiting for a moment to respond to something instead of immediately reacting to it when we’re upset. We don’t often have the patience to hold ourselves back when it comes to a post mentioning religion, politics, controversial issues, or even something personal that we feel threatened by. There might be five hundred comments on it with a final plea from the poster to stop, or just three comments altogether. We’d still feel the need to express our opinion and knock everyone in the thread that we disagreed with down a few pegs. In three seconds, we could say something uplifting and Christlike that edifies the conversation and reflects our role as disciples, but in the same three seconds, we often leave a comment in blind anger that, like a drop of oil in a freshwater pond, taints the entire tone of an online conversation and poisons the opportunity to feel and share the Spirit.“The time to think about our comments is before we even post them. Give yourself a few moments before you respond to something.”
Reacting without checking our emotions first can cause lots of damage to our relationships and also insult the covenant we’ve made with the Lord to always remember the Savior and have His spirit with us. The time to think about our comments is before we even post them. Give yourself a few moments before you respond to something. If necessary, walk away from your computer, or pick up something uplifting to read. Listen to soothing music or journal. Whenever I read a comment on my blog that gets me steamed, I try to sleep on it. Spending time away from it helps me to get back to thinking and acting reasonably. Most importantly, it helps me act more Christlike.
How you speak and the words you use tell much about the image you choose to portray. Use language to build and uplift those around you.
— Thomas S. Monson (@ThomasSMonson) March 2, 2015
2. Use vocabulary that edifies instead of patronizes.
The Internet is filled with lots of things we disagree with, and when we disagree we tend to react in one of two ways: with childish anger and name-calling, or with an air of being more intelligent than the person we disagree with. We might sound very reasonable in writing, choosing our words carefully so as to appear both polite and clever, but sounding polite and clever doesn’t make you Christlike.
We need to try harder to validate other people instead of making ourselves sound better than them in online conversations. We need to tone back on comments like “I’m sorry, but you are incorrect and do not understand” and start saying things like “I tend to disagree with you, but I’d really love to understand more of where you’re coming from. That’s important to me.” Imagine how different our online dialogue would be if we prioritized understanding over being right! Even when our Savior was right, and He always was, He chose to understand. He sets the greatest example for all of us.
I don’t think I need to tell you that using the words “idiot,” “moron,” or any variation of those to prove a point online is inappropriate. But please note that when we use phrases like “your ignorance is obvious,” or “you’re quite misinformed,” or when we use ethnocentric absolutes like “this is the way it is” without making any effort to understand somebody and validate them as a person with thoughts and feelings, we’re not being very Christlike, either. When we disagree, we must make an effort to be kind and edify the other person, not patronize them. No disagreement should ever have to be void of the Spirit.
3. Share more goodness and less cynicism.
When I was in high school, I had a major problem with sarcasm and cynicism. It was around that time that I realized that the world isn’t all peaches and cream, and my social media reflected a critical view of just about anything. I’d snark off about boys, school, teenage drama…the works. Being cynical and sarcastic made me feel smart, like I was proving something. Looking back at some of the things I said, I’ve realized that the only thing I proved was that I was mean and unhappy.
The world is a hard place to live in, and it is very easy to be cynical. It is easy to view the world with pessimism and share that pessimism on social media — how many times have you read or posted a vague “my life sucks” status, hmm? It’s equally easy and even fun to be sarcastic. Even now, I’ll indulge in a sarcastic tweet every once in awhile because I enjoy it. But the one thing sarcasm and cynicism rarely do is uplift.“As a representative of Jesus Christ, people will look to you for the truth and for happiness. They need that, and they need Him.”
When you are online, focus on sharing goodness. Try to fix the world’s problems a little bit at a time with what you share, but don’t get so caught up in those problems that they deflate your optimism. Joke around a bit, but don’t cruelly joke about other people. Be genuine and kind, not bitter and mean. As a representative of Jesus Christ, people will look to you for the truth and for happiness. They need that, and they need Him, and if all you’re posting is depressing T-Swift lyrics or snide comments, how are they going to find Him?
4. See people in context.
“Wow. That would have sounded bad out of context.”
You’ve probably heard this phrase before, right? But have you ever thought about what it means? Context, when it comes to communication, helps us understand both the direction our message is going and where it came from. Without context, it’s very easy for us to misunderstand each other or misinterpret what someone has said. Unfortunately, on the Internet, reading things out of context happens every day, and we aren’t always very forgiving and merciful about it.
Too often, we define a whole person based on one thing they post, tweet, or share online. It may have been something stupid they typed out in a rage, or just a thought they expressed poorly. Without knowing all of the facts, it’s easy for us to judge that person out of context and make false assumptions about them. One might read a single blog post, for example, and decide that the blogger is a horrible sinner. It’s easy to forget that they’re a real person with real feelings and a history that extends beyond that one thing you read. They aren’t just a profile picture with a status or a post.
The popular phrase goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but in an era of widespread online miscommunication and mistreatment, we’d also do well to give validity to the phrase, “Don’t judge a person by one post.” If we can’t take the time to get to know somebody beyond one thing they put on social media, then we have no business assuming we know who they are or what they intended.
“What would Jesus do if he was online?”
The Internet is one of the greatest tools we’ve been given to change the world, share the Gospel, and uplift each other. Let us not use it to bully or attack, shame or insult, or consistently voice our complaints. Instead, let’s use it to help and understand each other. We cannot always heal the man with leprosy sitting on a narrow Jerusalem street, but we can certainly heal someone’s heart, make their day better with what we post online, or respond with kind words instead of cruel ones. What would Jesus do? We ask ourselves. Another great question we should consider is: What would Jesus do if he was online?