I don’t know how many have seen the news over the last week, talking about trolling on social media particularly targeted at women who speak out on feminist issues.
Yesterday, Caitlin Moran, a journalist who is one of those who has been targeted in this way, led #twittersilence, where those who wanted to end this abuse abandoned twitter for 24 hours in protest. Vicky Beeching has written a comment piece on this for the independent (here) which explains why she didn’t join in.
This discussion is bound to raise many questions, the one it has caused me to ponder is that of community. What is it about twitter and other social media sites that lead people to say things they would rarely consider saying to someones face? An obvious and slightly old question, you say?
Online you are anonymous, except for the obvious fact that most of us use our real names, we are also often distant. These two factors make it a lot easier to post anything and feel that there is no consequence.
This leads to the question of whether community is possible in this online world. I am not talking about making friends – some of my very close friends have come through twitter. I am talking about accountability for our words and actions, having people around us to encourage us, notice when we are absent, challenge our behaviour and be there to help us in a time of need.
It is not just those who are attacking these women on twitter who can hurt. It is so easy to type a quick response to something we have read and post it without really thinking about how the tone, and words we have used might affect the person we are speaking to or about. I often read tweets from Christians where I am stunned to see the aggression they speak with towards others, it seems to come from most of us at times.
I have certainly previously had to back track, and remove tweets or comments which were not appropriate or were said in anger. It is something that most of those on social media will need to do. It is the same as in person, when we snap or react to someone in anger we apologise and forgive where necessary and right.
The community mission team at Livability is a resource to offer support to churches in looking outside their walls at the needs of their local community and asking how they can help to build healthy and sustainable, inclusive community. However, what role can churches have in building and caring for online communities?
Does being online make us so far removed from those we are talking to that we don’t really care how we affect them? Or, if someone called us or sent us a message questioning how we spoke to someone online, would we consider the challenge carefully and apologise where necessary?
What, if anything, can and should the church be doing to encourage positive interaction, positive community, and a positive presence on social media that will encourage change through grace and love? I am a firm believer in local church being there to help, encourage, build and participate in local community. However, with increasing proportions of our society communicating via technology, we, as church, need to be able to respond to the changing needs of individuals who may need pastoring, mentoring, guiding or teaching about being a positive influence for good on social media.
Really, I guess, through the many questions listed above, I am asking, how does the ‘local’ church maintain and build inclusive community, that is able to respond to the global nature of how so many of us communicate?
Written by Katharine Welby