By Chris Turner
Director of Communications, TBC
It can take a lifetime to build a stellar reputation. It only takes a single “tweet” to destroy it.
That, in a nutshell, is the dark side of social media, especially for ministers (but true of everyone). Many still find it unbelievable that social media has that kind of influence, but social media is like nitroglycerin: useful when handled with care but terminal if jostled the wrong way.
Here’s an example. Justine Sacco was the senior director of corporate communications at a large New York company. While on a layover in London, she posted this Tweet: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”
Sacco then hopped on an 11-hour flight to Cape Town oblivious to the intensifying “Twitter Storm.” By the time she landed, her tweet had been shared more than 2,000 times and seen by tens of thousands. The irony? She only had 170 followers. A friend texted, “I’m so sorry to see what’s happened. You’re the No. 1 worldwide trend on Twitter right now.” She was fired within hours and has struggled for two years with employment.
Appalling as her Tweet was, it apparently misrepresented who Sacco truly is. According to friends, co-workers, and her former employer, Sacco is a good person at the core and is described as being anything but racist. But faceless people on social media didn’t know that and Sacco destroyed her personal and professional reputation with 12 words.
Social media has a tremendous upside and has proven that it can be a valuable asset to advance the vision and influence of individuals, businesses, or ministries. However, social media has also fostered an environment for toxic self-expression. Whereas there might be something you’d never say to someone face-to-face, that social restraint disappears when it comes to social media.
Christians, and especially ministers, ought to be highly sensitive to this danger and heed the Bible’s multiple warnings regarding the tongue. James 3:6 comes immediately to mind (“And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.”), but there are certainly many others.
Should Christians stay away from social media altogether? No, but they should be “wise as serpents and gentle as doves.” Here are two simple questions you should ask before you post that can help you navigate social media without destroying your reputation or ministry.
Does what I’m about to post represent Jesus Christ in a positive or negative light? It is possible to engage social topics like abortion, gay marriage, politics, and other issues — in fact, Christians must engage within the arena where those conversations are taking place — but the tone and accuracy with which you state your position greatly matters to your Christian witness. We live in a world where everyone shouts down everyone else. Again from Scripture: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly” (Proverbs 15:1-2).
Does what I’m about to post represent me in a positive or negative light? Like it or not, to people on social media you are what you post — and you should care what other people think. Here’s an example. For 10 years I have plowed through endless blog, Facebook, and Twitter posts of people applying for jobs with organizations for which I’ve worked. And yes, on a number of occasions I have recommended a person be dropped from the process based on their social media content. Attitudes and actions (like what you might be saying about a former or current employer) posted to social media create a reality for those watching. For better or worse, you are to others what you post.
Proverbs 22:1 states, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” Don’t allow something you post to Facebook or Twitter destroy in seconds the name or ministry it has taken you a lifetime to build. In other words, think before you post.