How to Engage with Online Controversies

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Social media can be a hotbed of online controversies. It provides a platform for impassioned discussion on the scandals and disputes of the day. We spend hours of our lives on the digital space. So how do we engage with online controversies in a God-honouring way?

Respectfully and sensitively

Firstly, we must engage with online controversies respectfully and sensitively. Far too often, online discourse is marked by offensive and distasteful words. A lack of understanding and empathy is rife. This fails to appreciate that these can be sensitive issues where people are hurting. Therefore, rudeness and a craving of controversy is unprofitable and lacks compassion (2 Timothy 2:23; Titus 3:9; 1 Peter 3:8-9). Sensitivity and respect are needed. Engage with these issues in a manner which does not belittle the situation or the feelings of others. Don’t add fuel to the fire, but desire healthy discourse. As far as possible, promote peace and reconciliation which can only be rooted in respect and sensitivity toward people and the issue at hand.

Choose your words wisely

Engaging with online controversies requires you to choose your words wisely. Whether you have 140 characters, 280 characters, or even create a detailed thread, the online space leaves room for misunderstanding. There is only so much you can communicate through a screen, so you must choose your words wisely. Your words can easily lead to misunderstanding and misinterpretation. Therefore, consider what you are trying to say, and which words best communicate that. A wise word can bring encouragement (Proverbs 15:1) and promote reasonable discussion. Precisely used language leaves less room for miscomprehension. But a reckless use of language can cause harm and offence (Proverbs 12:18). So before you type, choose your words wisely.

Know When to Speak

A fool can speak at any time, but a wise person is one who knows when to speak. Thus, engaging in online controversies requires you to know when to speak and when to be silent. Are the wounds still fresh? Has the mourning process just begun? Will your words add any substance to the discussion at hand? Or will your silence, your presence and support be more helpful? An eagerness to speak may show disregard for the present circumstance, or even worse, lead to a loss of control and bursts of rage. Uncontrolled anger only serves to make matters worse. So be slow to speak and quick to listen (James 1:19-20).

I can guarantee that when you next pick up your phone and open social media, you will see another online controversy. How will you respond this time? Respect and sensitivity is key. You must choose your words wisely and know when to speak. This requires exceptional self-control and wisdom. These things don’t come to us naturally. You can’t do it (perfectly) without Jesus. This is because they are an outworking of a life transformed by Him. So abide in Jesus; stay connected to Him, because apart from Christ, the Holy Spirit cannot bear these fruit in your life and lead to a more God-honouring way of engaging in online controversies.

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