Before you post that blog, Facebook status, or tweet, what would be some indicators you might want to consider first? In such an instance, I want to offer 12 brief questions to ask yourself. You might think of them as indicator lights, the kind a pilot checks before taking off.
1) Will it edify? Or significantly inform a useful conversation? (Mk 12:29–31; 1 Cor 14:26)
Try to think of what will edify others. All we do is in obedience to the command to love God and others. How will it increase their knowledge, or faith, or love? Are you accurately representing any positions you disagree with? How sure am I of my facts? Trivialities hopefully fill up our lives less than they do so much of the Internet. John Piper has said that “One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove on the last day that our prayerlessness was not from lack of time!” He’s right.
2) Will it easily be misunderstood? (Jn 13:7; 16:12)
The privacy of a personal conversation limits misunderstanding. In public posts, some things will sound one way to those who know us, and another to those who don’t. Negative assessments are often best shared privately, or not at all. How many of us have learned at our workplace that email is a terrible way to share any kind of negative comments? And, thinking of more public postings, ask yourself: are there reasons why I may not be a good person to speak on certain matters?
3) Will it reach the right audience? (Mark 4:9 et al.)
If you’re correcting someone, should the audience for that correction be wider—or more narrow? Is that audience correctable? When you use social media, consider who is listening to what you’re saying. What if everyone in this room came over and eavesdropped on your conversations after the service today? Yet we do this all the time online.
4) Will it help my evangelism? (Col. 1:28–29)
Is what you’re about to communicate going to help or hinder those you’re evangelizing? Is it likely to diminish the significance (to them) of your commitment to the gospel, or enhance it?
5) Will it bring about unnecessary and unhelpful controversy? (Titus 3:9)
Think carefully about controversy. The line between vigorous exchange of ideas and a kind of social war is sometimes thinner than we may think. What is this particular controversy that I would be contributing to good for? When is it unhelpful? How much time will it take up? Is this an unavoidable primary issue, or a matter about which disagreement is fairly unimportant? Will this controversy play into any other division that threatens the unity of our local church?
6) Will it embarrass or offend? (1 Cor. 12:21–26)
Will anyone be embarrassed or offended by what you’re saying? I understand that the mere fact that something is offensive doesn’t mean that saying it is wrong, but simply, we must be sure the offense is worth it.
7) Will it convey care? (1 Cor. 12:21–26)
Will those mainly concerned appreciate your motives? Privacy in communication conveys care, an honoring of the person receiving the information. You like the fact that your doctor’s report is private; but you don’t mind that the sale at the store is advertised. If someone would rather be addressed in person, why not do that?
8) Will it make people better appreciate someone else? (1 Cor. 12:21–26)
Point out God’s grace in others’ lives, ministries, arguments, etc. Highlighting something that will build others’ esteem for someone else glorifies God and encourages others to see His work in them.
9) Is it boasting? (Prov. 27:2)
Does what you communicate online draw attention to yourself more than your topic? How could that be spiritually harmful to you or others? Will it leave people with a more accurate understanding of you? Are you simply being tempted to draw attention to yourself, or to what you know? When was the last time you encouraged others by sharing something embarrassing or even sinful about yourself?
10) Is the tone appropriate? (2 John 1, 12; Col. 4:6; Eph. 4:29; 2 Tim 2:24–25)
Will people understand and be encouraged in the truth that you communicate? How important is the tone to your message being rightly received? Is it evidently kind, patient, and gentle? The literal tone of your voice and the look on your face fill out so much of what you mean. In a personal conversation, you can more quickly understand that something needs clarifying and clarify it. The Internet doesn’t sanctify anger or frustration.
11) Is it wrong to say nothing? (Romans 1:14)
Do you have an opportunity or even a responsibility to communicate something? Some of you do this for your job. Have you established a “relationship” with readers, friends, and followers online that would expect you to comment on a particular issue or situation? Our freedom of speech is a wonderful stewardship! We want to use it well and responsibly. I guess there are even some jobs that aren’t worth sacrifices they call for, aren’t there?
12) What do others advise? (Prov. 11:14; 15:22; 24:6)
When you are about to communicate something you know others will find provocative, do you have good sounding-boards to try to help you estimate the response? Do you take time to consider before you publish? Speed of response is both an ability of the Internet and a temptation to speak too quickly (contra James 1:19; Prov. 10:19; 14:29; 16:32; 17:27). Remember, you will give an account for every word you type (Mt 12:36). Does saying things at a “safe distance” from people tempt us to say things we wouldn’t say to their face?
Perhaps you could write down these questions and ask a friend to look over your social media with these concerns in mind. Or even, ask someone who you know disagrees with you on some issue you’ve posted on or written about and see what they would say. So many of us might be able to improve our care. Can you imagine how much care the apostles took when writing their letters?
By Mark Dever