It’s been a rough week in America — and that means it’s been a rough week on social media as well.
Yesterday, I posted something on Facebook that I wanted to offer as food for thought: Mostly, the consolation of Scriptures — messages assuring us that our longing for justice will be completely fulfilled by a just and loving God.
But, knowing that emotions on the subject of justice were running high, and finding angry exchanges on almost every page I visited, I decided to ask readers to refrain from commenting on that particular post. Even though I offered it with the best intentions, I knew that somebody somewhere would take offense. I knew that I would be misunderstood — and that misunderstanding might be the reader’s fault, or it might be mine. Whatever the case, it was meant as a provocation to reflection, not as an invitation to an argument — so I asked people not to post comments there.
That upset some people, who argued that I had no right to shut down comments in a “social media” realm. (I learned this, of course, from comments.)
Frankly, I think the existence of the “Delete” and “Block” functions on Facebook suggest that there is a reasonable purpose for such functions. I believe that I have every right to shut down comments if they are counter-productive or damaging. Further, I use social media for conversations, most of the time; but sometimes, I just want to pass something along for readers to think about without immediate reactions. I want to share something that gives everyone a pause for reflection, without the instantaneous buzz. I’d rather not use punishing tactics to create that pause — I would prefer to ask, respectfully, for restraint.
But when that request inspired others to say I was being tyrannical and merely shutting down alternate views, I had to answer.
I’ve thought about it further since then, and what I think on that issue is too long for a Facebook post.
So here it is…
For the record, I have happily and civilly and profitably engaged in disagreements on Facebook today…
… which I point out only for those who claim that my occasional (rare, actually) “No Comments” Facebook posts are “trolling” or a refusal to engage opinions other than my own.
In 99% of my posts, I only use DELETE in cases of uncivil behavior, and I only use BLOCK in cases of persistent belligerence, slander, obscenity, or otherwsie hateful expressions. Still — even peace marches attract anarchists, troublemakers who don’t care much about the issues at hand, but are just looking for a way to unleash violence? That often happens on social media. And it does damage to all sides of the argument. If I get a sense that a comment thread is going to take that turn — if I sense sharks in the territory who will rush in at the faintest trace of vulnerability — I request, or even insist on, a “no comments” post. That, I hope, will prevent the damage that would otherwise be almost inevitable, the lashing-out from those who probably weren’t really listening in the first place.
Aside from “anarchists,” there are also “nuclear reactors” — people who rage against the posts that offend them without any capacity for hearing that their reaction is far more hostile and reckless and destructive than whatever set them off. Many of us, myself included, have been “nuclear reactors” before. Fires like those are hard to put out; they tend to spread.
Does my occasional “No Comments, Please” request shut down people who have good things to say? Yes. Unfortunately. And I’m sad about that.
But if I’m in a neighborhood full of vandals, I’m not going to hang an original piece of artwork in my front yard… not unless I also surround it with an electrified fence. Sure, there are some kind and civil people on my block; all the more reason to seek safe, productive ways to engage with them. The security measures are not a refusal to engage; they’re just common sense.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that my posts are “pearls” — in the post in question, I was sharing “pearls” from Scripture — the phrase “pearls before swine” is not irrelevant here. It’s a meaningful cliché.
Think about it: How many times in your life have your opinions been changed by somebody who confronted you harshly in public (on social media)?
For me, never. Not once.
My sensibilities are in a constant state of growth and change, and they are “taught” incrementally, usually by attraction to truth (expressed with grace), reason (modeled, not shouted), and beauty (the how of what we say is just as important as the what of what we say). If I disagree with somebody, I usually keep it to myself — or I take it to them in private messages because it takes away the “People Are Watching” factor. The “People Are Watching” factor can ruin anything by heightening tensions and hypersensitizing ego. Exchanges in public tend to be more combustible.
If you’ve read much of my writing, you know I love this Madeleine L’Engle quote:
“We do not draw people to Christ by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely they want with all of their hearts to know the source of it.”
I have plenty of experience failing at this.
And I’ll fail again.
But I share this with gratitude for those who have understood those “No Comment, Please” posts in the past, and in hopes people will understand it in the future.
And, as usual, I hope Facebook eventually offers us a “Post Without Comments” option the way that Google Plus does — it’s the one thing that I think Google Plus does better than Facebook.
Anyway… feel free to comment freely on this blog post.
[Just remember my blog’s comment policy.]