For years I’ve been running with a group of people who meet at 5:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. In the cold, dark winter mornings the group gets small. This year Christmas morning and New Year’s Day happened to fall on a Tuesday, and we bottomed out to about half a dozen.
When you’re running alongside people while the rest of the city sleeps you talk about anything and everything. But one of those six runners who was there on the holidays always seems particularly cautious in what he says. He is a lieutenant in our police department, and whenever we were talking about local politics, city hall or some social issue, if he said anything it was, “As a city employee and police officer I shouldn’t comment on that.” And he didn’t.
That individual has currently been in the news because of his tweets. At the time of this writing, he has been suspended from his job. It astounds me that someone who held back on sharing his opinions with a couple of friends on a trail has put his career in jeopardy with posts on social media.
The screen emboldens us, often with unfortunate results. I’m on Facebook more than Twitter. I have several hundred Facebook friends, which is to say not very many. Most are still struggling with how to use this still developing communication platform. Here’s how I would break it down:
1.Total positive: Everything these people put on Facebook makes the world a better place. I’m not saying it’s all happy, happy, but it all moves the conversation in the right direction. Of my hundreds of Facebook friends, I would put two in this category.
2. More good than harm: The presence of these people on Facebook make the world a better place. They have a few misses, but overall they are doing more good than harm, and everyone is better off with them on social media. When I first considered this category, I would have said the number of people in it are fewer than ten, but if you’re looking for more specificity, I would say fewer than five.
3. They mean well, but: Most of these people are trying hard to post things that move the conversations in the right direction. They behave themselves, try to find common ground, look for the best in people, but mass communication is hard. People go to college for years to learn enough to get entry-level jobs in it, then spend the rest of their lives developing skills in their career field and eventually retire knowing they still didn’t get it right much of the time. Facebook is like giving everyone their own television network, radio station, and publishing business and telling them to just wing it. It’s easy to get things wrong. Even those who only post things intending to make the world a better place end up getting pulled into online conversations that drain their energy, darken their mood, waste their time and potentially pollute their rational thinking with misinformation. They may not know it, but the world would be a better place if they unplugged from social media altogether and forever and used the time and energy it was claiming from them in a more positive manner. Of my 700 Facebook friends, I’d put about 685 of them in this category. I’m in it myself.
4.The bold prophets: No need for a whale ride, these people aren’t afraid to go to Nineveh. They call people out for being on the unjust-side of a topic. They think they can sway people with clever phrasing, sarcasm and shaming. They make no effort to understand the people on the opposing side, and their method of addressing it certainly isn’t going to sway anyone’s opinion; it is only going to polarize people further. In my feed, their distribution falls equally onto both sides of the political spectrum. They have no idea that Russian military intelligence operatives read their posts and say, “We salute thee, comrade, for doing our job of destabilizing America.” I probably have about 40 friends in this category.
Most people think they are better at social media than they are, myself included. We could all use some help. “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord. Keep watch over the door of my lips,” (or smartphone, as it may be) Psalm 141:3.
There are a lot of verses in the Bible cautioning people to watch what you say. Proverbs 18 is a whole chapter on it. I’m not advocating taking down your church Facebook page. We need some content of value out there. I am advocating not to say anything on social media that you wouldn’t say to a room full of strangers – because you are.