SOME people love social media, and some just hate them. There are those, including the founders of the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and the rest, who think that it brings the world together, and has a potential for good that comes from connecting us all in a global community of knowledge and information.
At their best, social media bring us ideas and perspectives that we have not seen before, and help us to encounter people whom we would never meet face to face. Others think that they reveal the worst of human nature, with all the aggression and vitriol that lurk in some of the more toxic parts of the web.
The truth is that it does both. It used to be the case that we all had thoughts and emotions that we largely kept to ourselves, or perhaps expressed to a few friends; but, now, we can all broadcast those thoughts and emotions to the world. The result is a window into the human heart, with all its complexity.
Social media reflect who we are, and hold up a mirror to us: they are no worse or better than we are. They are, like us all, a mixture of the good and the bad, the heroic and the hurtful — and that basic division does not run between people, but within people. We cannot divide the world simply into “good” people and “bad” people”: we are all a bit of both, created as we are by God, and yet all of us broken in some way, large or small.
THIS is why the Church of England’s guidelines on the use of social media, issued on Monday, really matter. They are intended to help Christians think about how they interact with others online. But they have wider implications for everyone, of any faith or none. We human beings have great potential either to help or to hurt, and so it is worth thinking whether what we post online, as much as anything we do, will end up healing or harming those who read it. As in our regular face-to-face conversations, what we put online can make a difference to the world. Every post can either make that world a more understanding, compassionate, and wise place, or a little bit angrier, irate, or polarised.
So, for example, if little-known events or facts need to be publicised, social media are a good way to make sure that truth spreads. Yet, before you post something, ask yourself a basic question: Is it true? Spreading harmful gossip or posting something that you half-suspect is fake, but haven’t bothered to check, helps no one, and simply acts to keep rumours flying.
Then again, think about how you say it. Kindness is an underestimated virtue. One of the central teachings of Jesus Christ was to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself. The same is true on social media. If you have a criticism or critique to make, consider not just whether you would say it in person, but the tone that you would use. We all know when someone has acted kindly towards us, but don’t always think to act out of kindness ourselves.
THERE are times when we have to express strong opinions, but there are ways of doing it that think the best, not the worst, of people. They are more likely to think about your opinion if it is expressed thoughtfully and kindly rather than if they feel under attack.
Tweeting in haste or in anger is rarely a good idea. Let the emotions subside before committing something online for the world to see. In short, think before you tweet: you might just help to improve the world a touch.
Dr Graham Tomlin is the Bishop of Kensington.
Read Andrew Brown on how the press covered the story
The C of E’s guidelines
* Be safe. The safety of children, young people, and vulnerable adults must be maintained. If you have any concerns, ask a diocesan safeguarding adviser.
* Be respectful. Do not post or share content that is sexually explicit, inflammatory, hateful, abusive, threatening, or otherwise disrespectful.
* Be kind. Treat others as you would wish to be treated, and assume the best in people. If you have a criticism or critique to make, consider not just whether you would say it in person, but the tone you would use.
* Be honest. Don’t mislead people about who you are.
* Take responsibility. You are accountable for the things you do, say, and write. Text and images shared can be public and permanent, even with privacy settings in place. If you’re not sure, don’t post it.
* Be a good ambassador. Personal and professional life can easily become blurred online; so think before you post.
* Disagree well. Some conversations can be places of robust disagreement, and it’s important we apply our values in the way we express them.
* Credit others. Acknowledge the work of others. Respect copyright and always credit where it is due. Be careful not to release sensitive or confidential information, and always question the source of any content you are considering amplifying.
* Follow the rules. Abide by the terms and conditions of the various social-media platforms themselves. If you see a comment that, you believe, breaks their policies, then please report it to the respective company.