I recently made a pact with myself to stop scanning all readers’ comments to online articles. Why? Simply because they always have a way of making me angry. When I read post-game interviews with sports superstars I see comments abounding in hateful language towards this person. Accusations of laziness, indifference, of being washed up, lack of talent, and cheating are all prevalent. Yet I wonder what these individual commenters would have to say if they came into real contact with this sports icon?
When I read articles about the flooding in the western part of Manitoba I see commenters reprimanding the affected people for living there in the first place. One person, commenting on the plight of the people affected by the Hoop and Holler dike breach, questioned the sanity of anyone who would continue to live an area that flooded every year. These comments, that display a complete lack of proper information, an astounding amount of arrogance, and little to no sympathy for the problems of others, are the reason why I am on hiatus from all readers’ comments.
However, I cannot help but wonder who these people are?
Are they naturally hate-filled people who have found another avenue to spread their arrogant and hurtful comments? Probably not.
Are they the average citizen whom I pass on my way to work? Could be.
Perhaps they could even be fellow church members? I will probably never know.
The beauty and tragedy of the online community is that one can speak one’s mind freely without the social checks of a person to person community. Online you can remain anonymous, and you can say just about anything you want to without fear of repercussions. In a person to person community, ones actions and words are scrutinized by the collective whole. There are consequences for saying whatever you want or doing whatever you want, such as excommunication from the community or, at the very least, anger towards you from the offended party. Online those checks are not in place and it is evident in no place more than readers’ comments.
How do we portray ourselves online? The Internet, with tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites allows us to create a person in the online community who is nothing like the real us. This person can be funnier, better looking, and smarter then we actually are. This person can also be angrier and more cynical than we dare be in a real person to person community.
Right now I am doing my best to portray an accurate picture of who I actually am in the flesh. To help those you who don’t know me I will also tell you that I am six foot four, I have a washboard stomach, I love to surf and skateboard and I play lead guitar in a band that is close to breaking into the big time (all lies of course, but do you see how easy it can be to change yourself online?). In reality I am not quite that tall, I don’t have a washboard stomach, I can’t even stand on a skateboard, I have never tried surfing, and I can only play two chords on the guitar (the rest hurt my hands). However, I am an avid sports fan, a lover of all things Star Wars, a decent athlete, and someone who loves thinking and dialoguing about the Church. I am living in Winnipeg with my wife Janna and together we are co-youth pastors of Springfield Heights Mennonite Church.
Do your words and actions online match up with your words and actions in daily life? Have you created for yourself a fake persona through words and pictures online or do you use the online community to behave in a way you would not in your church, home, school, or workplace? Whether it is online or in person God calls us to come just as we are, not as we wish we were or how we want to be, but just as we are. The online community represents an opportunity to be someone other than you for a change. For a second there the online me had a six pack and could surf. Great! But how does that actually help me?
The thing about online is that no will ever know you are not portraying your actual self because no one online knows the real you. No one but God that is. I love this verse from Luke:
'Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.' Luke 16:10 (NIV)
I think the online community could be counted under “very little.” If we can be trusted to be honest in our online words and actions then Luke tells us that we can be trusted with much more.
Today as you comment on articles, post pictures, write emails, or give status updates, take into consideration whether what you are doing online is a good representation of who you are as a person.
God bless you on your cyber journey,