Some time ago, a friend on Facebook posted something that upset me.
Not only did this person write something inflammatory about someone I respected, but what the individual posted as a ‘fact’ was actually wrong. I had sat in on a meeting in which the matter was discussed and cleared. And now, this person was speaking as if they had the facts. The post was garnering some attention and there was an online discussion going on in the comments section.
I sensed my irritation growing the more I read the discussion. I decided to jump in. I was going to prove to everyone that the “poster” was ignorant on the subject and needed to be corrected. I began to type. “Everyone will see how wrong you are! You’re spreading lies and I’m calling you out on it!”
I smiled to myself and closed the tab. I knew I had won the argument. I envisioned success; those online would see that the person was wrong and I was right.
But my plan backfired.
Instead of seeing my point, as the discussion continued, I was attacked and accused of being a liar. Hurt, embarrassed, and angrier than I was at first, I fought back. Then it got worse. I did what I thought was the next best thing in social media land; I hit the Almighty Unfriend Button.
Would the situation have turned out differently if I had reacted in another way? How could a friendship suddenly end with just a click of a button because of words online? Did both sides represent Jesus Christ well? In the end, I realized I lost a friendship in order to win an argument online.
If you really want to “win” in online discussions, here are 5 things to remember:
1. Your temper or patience will determine how the discussion goes.
A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel (Proverbs 15:18 NIV)
If your emotions are running high in regards to a post, the best thing to do is step away (log off) until you’re thinking clearly. Emotions are like guides that influence how you react to a situation. For example, fear will tell you to run away from or fight off danger. Love leads you to draw closer to the object of your affection, while depression causes you to isolate yourself. When anger takes control, your immediate reaction will be to defend yourself or someone else who seems to be in harm’s way.
While emotions are not bad, many times they push rationale aside. Anger impairs your judgment. A Harvard study found that anger influences how we perceive a situation and the choices we make in response to that situation.
So when you read a post or see an image online that triggers you, don’t answer immediately. Take a few deep breaths to start thinking clearly again. But switching from “angry mode”, the Holy Spirit takes the controls of your mind to guide your response. Through a patient response, you avert what could be a full-blown online war.
2. It’s honorable to avoid online strife.
Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, But any fool will quarrel (Proverbs 20:3 NASB)
Strife is defined as “angry or bitter disagreement over fundamental issues.” Remember, a dispute over whose principle should guide the basic actions of a people or organization is too complex to be solved under a post. In most arguments online, both sides have their minds made up and are not open to being changed. Look at the big picture. What will you solve by immersing yourself in a heated discussion?
When tempers are flaring, we forget that behind the names on a thread there are actual people with feelings. It’s better to do the honorable thing and “keep away from strife.” Does this mean that you should be passive, especially in the face of injustice? No. But think of a more effective, God-honoring way of dealing with the situation.
A lot of the negative things said online would not be expressed by the writer if they were actually in front of the person who their comment is directed to. People are more aggressive when they have an online audience “liking” their comments or when there is a screen that they can close if they don’t want to talk anymore. This is one reason why engaging in heated debates can be pointless and produces strife.
3. Don’t engage when ignorance prevails.
Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights (2 Timothy 2:23 NLT).
The Apostle Paul wrote this as a part of a letter he sent to Timothy, giving advice on how to lead God’s people. Paul knew that the temptation to debate and argue would come knocking. Paul was not telling Timothy to avoid discussions and debates; he was warning him against a certain kind of debate.
Acts 17:2 tells us that Paul “reasoned with them” (the Jews) for three Sabbaths. As a result, many of them accepted Jesus. Paul’s reasoning or discussions involved exchanging thoughts and ideas in order to come to a conclusion. Both sides were open to hearing each other out and using scripture to come to a conclusion. As they shared thoughts and evaluated God’s Word, the discussion was fruitful.
But there are some arguments that stem from ignorance and those involved are not open to being taught or reasoned with. This was the kind of debate that Paul warned against. The apostle recognized that engaging with people who refuse to be taught or come to conclusions without evidence or logic is foolish. Proverbs 26:4 says that to argue with such a person means you’re no different.
There are discussions that take place where the person who posts a question is open to hearing various thoughts and wants to learn. The Holy Spirit will give guidance on how to engage. But if you notice that a post is based on ignorance and the person is not open to learning, God’s Word says not to engage.
4. You can disagree with a person online without being mean and cruel.
You must quit being angry, hateful, and evil. You must no longer say insulting or cruel things about others (Colossians 3:8 CEV).
When we accept Jesus Christ, His Spirit living in us affects all areas of our lives. This also includes how we respond to someone we fundamentally disagree with. Jesus Christ was never insensitive or rude. He never insulted, demeaned, or verbally abuse those who attacked Him. On the contrary, He asked forgiveness for those who crucified Him. While it may seem justifiable to disrespect someone who we believe is wrong (and very well may be), Jesus calls us to a higher standard. If we are abiding in Him, His command is to replace angry, hateful comments with Spirit-filled, loving admonition. Name-calling and bad-mannered comments on social media (and offline) have no place among God’s people.
Remember, if the person you disagree with online is in the wrong, then you have a greater responsibility to witness to them through your comments.
If you believe this individual is in darkness, putting down your candle to type a demeaning comment will envelop both of you in greater darkness. You are called to “do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world (Philippians 2:14,15 ESV)
5. The strongest people fight with their hearts
Ask God to bless anyone who curses you, and pray for everyone who is cruel to you (Luke 6:28 CEV).
In a world where strength is measured by a physical display of power, it may be easy to fall prey to the notion that the strong attack their enemies in a visible way. However, the way of Jesus Christ requires much more strength. He calls us to do something that is almost impossible to do when under attack; pray for those who mistreat you.
If someone attacks or maligns you or someone else online, the last thing you want to do is pray that God blesses them. Naturally, we want God to vindicate us and maybe bring disaster to the person. Didn’t one of God’s prophets even curse a group of young men who mocked him and bears came out and mauled them? While that may be the case, we are not called to imitate every act of His prophets, especially when human nature prevailed.
Instead, we are called to completely follow Jesus’ example.
It takes supernatural strength to fight in prayer instead of unleashing fiery words. This doesn’t mean that everything stops with prayer. The actions that follow prayer should be acts of faith. Talking with God braces your heart and the hearts of other individuals for the action you will take in regards to an online disagreement. The command to “love your enemies” (Matt.5:44) does not apply to only a small group of uniquely pious people within the church. This is something that we all must follow if we love Jesus and have experienced His forgiveness.
- Don’t take comments from strangers personally
- Deal with your anger before responding
- Ask yourself if you have the time to invest in an ongoing online debate
- Steer clear of name-calling, insults, and mean comments
- Making accusations will not make you a better person
- If you wouldn’t say something to someone directly, don’t post it
- Stand to be corrected. There’s always something new to learn
- Be respectful and kind even if you disagree
Whatever the reason – political, spiritual, justice – if you’re online, you will come across online debates. Some of these discussions are healthy while others can be toxic. Emojis, all caps, GIFS, and other characters can be used to bring lighten or thicken darkness.
As a digital disciple, your words serve as a testimony of your faith. When you engage, bring light and give instruction. Use your influence to represent your Lord and showcase His wisdom.
Winning arguments online isn’t about gaining victory over someone else; it’s about gaining victory over yourself.