Wondering why you’re always fighting on Facebook? Here are 5 reasons our social media conversations are failing.

Is it possible to have good conversations on social media? I’m not so sure anymore.

The whole lot of yelling going on doesn’t seem helpful and I know I’m not the only one losing heart over our inability to engage each other meaningfully around important ideas and issues on which we might disagree.

Why is it so hard to talk on social media? Here are at least 5 reasons why.

1. Lack of Relationship

Whether the conversations are about carbon taxes, church strategies or the latest food allergies, they often rage between people who have no relationship with each other.  Maybe it started between friends, but the threads were quickly dominated by folks who do not know or love or understand one another. And with the absence of relationship comes absence of nuance and caring and empathy. And the absence of fruitful conversation.

2. Missing Context

More than once I’ve witnessed a show down between two people who, if they had known each other’s context, would have been much more careful and thoughtful in their responses. But this comment or that bullet response didn’t allow for that, and eruptions followed.  When I am in relationship with someone, I understand more of what’s behind the screen, and how I talk and respond and even challenge them changes as a result.

3. No Accountability

Perhaps nothing stands out more than how digital platforms create the illusion of anonymity, even if our names are posted right beside our comments! And with that illusion comes a lack of accountability. With our fingertips, we say things we will never be forced to back up (we can just log off!). There is no real way of holding to account someone’s ugly tirade or hateful comments, barring a little bit of shaming or blocking a certain user.

4. Little Trust

Another reason meaningful dialogue seems difficult is the lack of trust people have for each other. Given what we’ve said so far, it’s understandable–no relationship+no context+no accountability=very little trust.  And yet in order for a true exchange of ideas to occur, especially important and conflicting ideas, we have to extend some benefit of the doubt to the other person. We can’t think they are just idiots. As others have taught us, such as Patrick Lencioni, trust is foundational to good conflict over important ideas. But I see very little trust on the platforms (and often for good reason).

5. Limited Time

This one may surprise you, but I think the fifth reason conversations are difficult online is that we are often engaging in an ongoing thread of debate or discussion while moving at disorienting speed. We are commenting on this political idea while holding a bag of nails at the hardware store, then sniping in on someone else’s parenting comment while our own kid is demanding lunch. We just haven’t slowed down enough to engage, and end up reading too fast, commenting too quickly, failing to understand the issues, unable to follow through and then wondering why everyone’s so upset.  Some of these conversations just can’t be had within the time it takes to descend from the 4th floor of our office building.

So what do you think? Why is it so hard to have fruitful conversations on social media?


Political Junkiness: When Our Online Behaviour Harms Our Christian Witness

When Christians trash and mock politicians and their allies, they harm their witness to Jesus.  

Over the last year, new governments rose in the nation of Canada and in the province of Alberta. Internationally, we perch on the edge of our seats as the next season of American leadership is decided by democracy. With political change comes passionate heat. But the ones from whom we expect more light than heat often disappoint.

Scrolling through social media before, during and after the elections was very revealing. And disturbing. I watched Jesus-followers reach into the slop to sling immature taunts more at home in a barn yard than a public forum. I was appalled at the ways Christians (who should know better) spewed on people publicly, especially on Facebook. Disagreement on important issues sank quickly into mocking ridicule for whichever political leader they despised, then extending to anyone who dared agree with that leader. It was ugly. It was unhelpful. And it harmed our witness to Jesus.

Day after day, post after post, followers of Jesus forgot who they follow and brought disrepute to Jesus in how they behaved online. It was sick.

Don’t get me wrong. Thoughtful disagreement, passionate push back on the issues that matter–that we want.  Strong positions on economic
or environmental policies are good. We desperately need insightful people to clarify the issues and forward the concerns driving the various political platforms, without reaching for the idiocy of superficiality. We need people who can envision good futures and move us toward them. And we need leaders who maintain dignity and respect among the crowds who’d rather mock someone’s hair than discuss their foreign policy.

But here’s my main issue: Our witness is more important than our politics. And when Christians mock political opponents and ridicule people’s political choices, they harm their influence for Jesus. Not because they disagree with them, but because of how they treat the people with whom they disagree. When a Christian passes around demeaning memes or posts disgusting personal attacks, it hurts fruitful conversation. Disrespectful behaviour doesn’t serve to enhance our understanding of why others vote the way they do, nor does it help us understand the concerns and convictions informing their perspectives. But it can sure serve to alienate us from them. Let’s remember what we teach the kids about cyber-bullying:  You can’t mistreat someone online and then expect them to be your friend in person. 

Springfield BulliesToo often we forget that our online presence directly impacts our daily witness. When you mock a political leader like a grade 8 thug, how will you sit down with a friend from that political position later in the same afternoon and share the good news of Jesus with them? (I do hope I’m not assuming too much by expecting us to have friends we love who hold other political perspectives.) When a quick survey of our Facebook posts reveals more hatred for certain politicians than love for a certain King, we’ve got a problem. And we need to repent.

How we speak online influences our witnessWhat should you do? Go ahead and hold your political perspectives. Think through the issues carefully, with Jesus’ kingdom in full view. When appropriate, state your position positively and clearly. But for Jesus’ sake, don’t be a bully. Don’t be a snark. Don’t ridicule or call people names. Don’t be that Christian, who seems more allied with the latest (or potential) Caesar than with the greatest Messiah. Paul, himself incarcerated under a less-than-stellar government, reminded Christians to be mindful of “outsiders” in their prayer and speech, so that nothing would hinder the message of Jesus getting out here. It was in that context he encouraged them to “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Surely this applies to our online political conversations?

Instead, be a prayerful presence. Be a poster of good news. Re-post writers who are helping us think through the issues, or even raising concerns about certain candidates in helpful ways. Listen, ask, connect. Make sure what you say online would further your relationships in reality, not create barriers to Jesus in the lives of friends.

After all, governments will continue to rise and fall. But Jesus has already been installed as the King over all the nations. And we are called to remain faithful ambassadors of his kingdom to every nation, in every time and place.

As Christians, how can we do better online?

Can you give examples of helpful, Jesus-honoring disagreement which clarifies issues without mistreating others?