You’ve seen it happen before: someone you know publishes a post, comment, or picture on Facebook or some other social media site that stirs up conflict. Perhaps they start something without sharing names specifically, or perhaps they actually call someone out by name. Just maybe, that’s you. You’ve been the one to start conflict over social media. Each one of us handle conflict differently – some of us run away from it and others run towards it. Conflict on social media, however, is a different beast altogether.
They Said What!?!
Social media has a way of creating a whole new person, and sometimes it creates a monster. On Facebook, we are “friends” with thousands of people. On Twitter, we follow and are followed by countless others. Most of these friends and followers are acquaintances at best and so, through social media, we are able to be whoever we want to be. We post pictures of ourselves that we want others to see, we say things we want others to hear, and ultimately we become the person we want others to believe we are. In the process, however, we begin to think we are invincible. Because we are not face-to-face with others, we think that we can say and do whatever we want. If someone says something we disagree with, we make sure they know we disagree. If we are upset with someone, we let them and the rest of our friends and followers know about it. This is an all-too-common event; someone sends something and then the conflict ensues through replies. If the conflict gets really ugly, people personally message us, they de-friend us (or we de-friend them), but once we get whatever it is off of our chest, we feel better.
What’s the problem with this? There is a verse in Scripture that haunts me. In Romans 12:18, Paul writes to the church at Rome, saying, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” I find this verse to be so frustrating because I know how difficult it is. You and I are complicated messes. We are sinners who have been sinned against and have sinned ourselves. Because of sin, it can be extremely difficult to live at peace with all. Now, take away face-to-face interaction and think about how difficult it is to live at peace with all. As we stare at our computer screen, phone, or tablet, we think we are invincible and have a right to say whatever we want. Paul says otherwise, recognizing several truths about conflict.
First, he says, “If possible…” Paul recognizes that sometimes conflict is inevitable. Interpersonal relationships are difficult, and because they involve other people, conflict will sometimes occur. So, sometimes we cannot avoid conflict. Secondly, Paul says, “so far as it depends on you.” Here Paul makes it clear that you can only be responsible for yourself. We cannot be responsible for how others react to situations or deal with conflict, but we can and are responsible for how we respond to conflict. Finally, he writes, “live peaceably with all.” Regardless of the person and the circumstances, Paul commands us to live at peace with everyone.
Living Peaceably with Our Digital Friends
So, what does this mean for conflict on social media? Paul’s words in Romans 12 ring true for us today. If at all possible, you and I must fight to live at peace with everyone. That means self-control for many of us, particularly holding our tongues (or our fingertips). Using self-control and living at peace with others on social media means we always ask ourselves, “Should I say that?” If there is the slightest doubt in our mind as to whether we should post what we have written, there’s a good chance we should delete what we have typed. Also, we need to be honest with ourselves and check our motives by asking ourselves, “Why do I want to say this?” If our motives are impure and our comment brings conflict, then we might need to delete our comment. At the end of the day, every time we post something on social media we should be able to say, “I did everything I could to live at peace with everyone.”