Arguing on Social Media is Good for You

Facebook and Twitter haven't made us less kind; they've made us less fake.

Social media has finally been around long enough that it's no longer considered cool and nonconformist to refuse participation. Instead, it's becoming more and more fashionable to suspend our existing accounts and reevaluate their benefits.

Some do regular technology fasts to prevent it from becoming an addiction. Others sever ties with the digital world to reconnect with the physical one. A few bury their head in the proverbial sand because the stories online occasionally hit a little too close to home.

But there are those who are just tired of all the opinions. Everyone has one and no one seems to care who gets hurt by it. If trolling wasn't bad enough, the faceless arguments have brought so much criticism to the medium that some are abandoning it altogether.

Writer, Amy Julia Becker, recently said in Christianity Today: "I found the amount of anonymous vitriol that emerged in my blog's comment sections personally demoralizing and discouraging." Though this isn't the only reason, it's contributed to her departure from the blogging world.

But the wrong conclusion to draw from this is that social media is inherently bad or detrimental to our relationships. To the contrary, social media is just a tool that represents the intent of the user. And for that reason, I wish more people used it.

It probably sounds wise to say that social media isn't a good forum for debate and that online arguments never end well because we feel freer to say things that we never would in person. But as important as exercising discretion is, we can't call it discretion if it's not fueled by love.

Most of the time, the reason we don't say something is based on fear. We're afraid of being challenged, confronted, rejected or otherwise dismissed for holding the opinions that we do. We might tell ourselves that we don't want to offend, but we're really just fearful of being wrong or ignorant or, God forbid, kind of stupid.

There's nothing loving about such petty self-preservation. In fact, there's nothing loving about avoiding situations where our opinion might be challenged. Because we still hold the opinion, don't we? And if we're afraid that expressing it might cause a negative response, couldn't that mean there's something wrong with our opinion?

We can't all be completely informed or completely logical in our thinking. Some of us are smarter than others and some of us have more experience. So it follows that the more people we interact with, the better our opinions will be. And that's important because our opinions inform our actions.

Some opinions are dangerous. For example, the opinion that black people were subhuman led to all manner of crimes against humanity in this country. And, in my opinion, implicit racism continues to contribute to the deaths of unarmed black men and women.

Sure, that's an extreme example and one that has no lack disagreement, but that's the benefit of social media. I can share that opinion without the fearful constraints we call decorum and receive pushback accordingly from those with different experiences.

In Christianity, we call that doing church. Love wouldn't have been commanded if it wasn't difficult, and sometimes the loving thing to do is to stop hiding our unpopular opinions. Sometimes love means letting iron sharpen iron and exposing our thoughts, no matter how ugly they end up being. If you're going to think them anyway, albeit quietly, it is not from love that you're being discreet.

Love knows the difference between being hurtful and harmful. If your intention is to cause harm, then out of love for another, show discretion. But if your fear is that it might cause hurt, then don't be silent out of love for yourself.

I think that's what Martin Luther meant when he said, "God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners.  Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger."

You can't avoid hurting others, especially if you love them, because you're a stupid sinner just like me. And running from social media won't make you any less of one either. If anything, it will provide you less of an opportunity to realize how stupid and awful you really are.

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