By Carra Hughes Greer
Let’s face it: Facebook is quickly becoming a “community” of its own. For some, Facebook has replaced much (actual) face-to-face communication and has become a major means of relationship building. Whether we agree or not about the role social media plays in our lives, we cannot ignore that these virtual communities exist (and not only do they exist, but are growing rapidly).
With this new form of communication and community, there is yet another medium upon which some individuals paint pictures of violence and hate, racism and xenophobia, misogyny and total intolerance. It is not surprising, people think very little, but write a whole lot when they are hiding behind the screens of their computers. After all, it takes much more character, time, and patience to sit and dialogue with people you do not agree with.
What is surprising, however, is the number of purported Christians and churchgoers who intentionally post status updates, write blogs and even tweet tweets whose tone so adamantly goes against the life and teachings of the Christ they proclaim to follow. For this very reason, my youth group has spent much time talking about what it means to “be a Christ-follower in the Facebook community.” What are virtual virtues — and is this a topic worth talking about with our children, youth, and yes, even our adults?
We have seen the tragic affects cyber-bullying can have on an individual, with the recent suicides of five teenage boys based on the harassment and psychological damaged they withstood because of their sexual orientation. It was too much to handle, their personal lives and sexual relationships smattered across the Internet for all to see. It’s not just cyber-bullying; any level of name-calling via the Web is totally inexcusable and inappropriate. There is a new level of comfort with being politically incorrect, and some individuals gladly assert their First Amendment freedoms at the expense of others, especially when they can sit in the safety of their homes like cowards behind their screens. Adults are doing a poor job at modeling these virtual virtues to their children and teenagers.
Just recently, I was shocked to read several hateful and racist Facebook status updates. The outlandish comments touched on issues ranging from immigration to political parties to burning of copies of the Quran to President Obama. I know these comments are viewed by many in our community — including the children and youth who are able to view these comments because they are Facebook friends with those who post them. Just because you have the constitutional right to bash anyone based on their race, weight, gender, sexual orientation, occupation, socio-economic status, intelligence, etc., does not mean one should indulge in the use of such a freedom — especially if you call yourself a person of integrity, a person of high moral character, a person seeking to live as Christ lived.
I remember my grandmother teaching me manners, how to speak to adults, how to respond with kindness to those who mistreat you at school and even how to disagree respectfully with folks. My grandmother never used the Internet; she thought “Facebook” was just a new name for a photo album. I know my grandmother, had she been aware of these virtual communities and the hate-mongering and blatant disrespect for others that occur here, would have added to her teaching a guide to virtual virtues, cyber sensitivity, Internet ethics. We are not exempt for the way we act, the things we say, the hate we spread simply because we can hide behind screens and press the “delete” key once the damage has been done.
I think about the adage, “Character is who you are when no one is watching.” It seems the adage must be slightly updated to fit our context, “Character is who you present yourself to be and the things you say when no one knows your real-world name.”