social media

Are You the Same Person Online That You Are In Person?

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I love Facebook’s “Memories” feature. This option allows me to view my yearly posts on that date since I started a Facebook account.  

As I look back, I regret some posts because the world did not need to know I was “ready for summer” or “tired of school.” There are others posts I would word differently or not share at all today. This feature is humbling, really.

Millennials like me make up the first generation to spend its formative years on social media apps like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Social media came so swiftly that the church and society are only now learning more about its effects on individuals.

One of those effects based on observation (including my own “Memories” posts) is the ability to check parts of ourselves at social media’s front door when we get ready to share our thoughts.

Integrity is popularly defined as doing the right thing when no one is watching. Consistency is implied in the definition of integrity because integrity requires consistency between doing the right thing in private that you claim is the right thing in public. In our digital age, integrity also involves consistency in person and online.

Sadly, too often our digital and in-person personas are inconsistent. Most of us can think of a time when we posted something and thought days later, “That did not sound like me,” or, “That was not right of me.”

In fact, in Interpersonal Communication, Kory Floyd writes, “[R]esearchers believe that communicating online has a ‘dis-inhibition effect,’ encouraging people to say or do things that they wouldn’t if they were in face-to-face settings.”

How do we remain consistent rather than become fragmented human beings when we step through social media’s threshold? How do we live with integrity, communicating online in the same manner that we would if face-to-face? How can we be same person online that we are in person?

Here are a handful of guardrails to help you be consistent.

In our digital age, integrity involves consistency in person and online.

1. Create an imaginary “vetting committee.”

I created a “rule” for myself one year ago to avoid this dilemma. I think of Christ and five other people I really respect. Before I post something, I ask myself, “Would I want all five of these people to read this post?” These people are Christians, but they are also different. They have different political views and cultures. They are different ages and have different relationships with me. If I cannot share my post face-to-face with them, perhaps it is not ready for the Internet either.

While it is important to remember that you have a wide array of connections online, you shouldn’t expect that everyone will understand your reasons for posting something. To expect that the Facebook friend who moved eight states away in seventh grade will understand how you think now is unrealistic. However, considering the opinions of those you respect and trust will help you remain consistent online.

2. Be obedient to Scripture.

Another way to remain faithful to our identity in Christ when our fingers start typing is to pause and ask, “Are my words in this post consistent with a Christian ethic of conversation? What does Scripture say about how I ‘speak’ or, in this case, type to others?”

Perhaps this “dis-inhibition effect” Floyd mentions in his book also encourages us to abandon the ways we are called to communicate, whether with people who agree or disagree with us. Passages like 1 Corinthians 13, James 3 and Galatians 5 are as equally applicable online as they are in person. This does not mean that we never publicly correct others or recognize wrongs; Paul did this often in his public, written letters to churches in the first century. We are still called, however, to correct opponents with gentleness (Gal. 2:5) no matter the medium.

Considering the opinions of those you respect and trust will help you remain consistent online.

3. Be consistent across multiple platforms.

This might seem outlandish, but people are tempted to communicate differently depending on the social media platform, too. Different platforms meet different needs; Twitter, for example, seems like a much friendlier platform for politics than Facebook. A worthy question for reflection from time to time, however, is to ask yourself if you are consistent on different platforms. This does not mean you post the same content on every platform, but would those five people you respect be surprised or disoriented if they saw your posts on Twitter that you did not include on Facebook?

4. Avoid the hot-take.

A last guardrail I would suggest for social media is to avoid the “rant” or “hot take.” Sometimes, we need more time, information or reflection before we write about an issue. Ask yourself questions like “will I regret this post tomorrow?” or “do I need more information first?” before clicking your “Tweet” button.

This list is exhaustive by no means, but, with some simple guardrails around social media, we Millennials might avoid some eyerolls at our “Memories” years down the road.

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Lanie Anderson

Lanie Anderson lives in New Orleans with her husband and is a student pursuing an M.Div. in Christian Apologetics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. She is passionate about building bridges between people both inside and outside of the Church. In her free time, she writes on her blog, reads books, and drinks too much coffee.

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