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Loving Our Online Neighbors

In Christian circles, and certainly at Mill City, we talk regularly about loving our neighbors — the people we interact with regularly. But what does it mean to love our neighbors in an online environment? Who are our neighbors on Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, and other social media platforms? Certainly the rise of social media in the past 15 years has impacted the ways we communicate in our culture. So in a world littered with fake news, clickbait headlines, and divisive comments, what does it mean to bring our faith to our online lives?

As a librarian, I teach students how to evaluate what they find online, helping them determine a source’s credibility and trustworthiness. As a Christian, my faith encourages me to build bridges, bring peace, and love my neighbor. I can’t help but see the connections between my career and the ability for me to be the kind of Christian that loves my neighbors. I believe that as Christians we need to be willing to look at our culture’s current information landscape and ask ourselves hard questions about how we interact with it.

It starts by understanding how technology is influencing ourselves and our world. If we are unaware of how technology and social media are impacting us and our culture, how can we possibly expect to engage thoughtfully online?

Next we need to be intentional: intentional with fact checking and especially intentional in checking our emotions. Pausing before commenting or reacting can go a long way in loving our neighbors (this is true online and in person). This doesn’t mean we ignore our emotions but instead, we pay attention to the emotions the online information is trying to invoke in us or pay attention to why we’re feeling such a strong emotional reaction.

Here are some questions to consider when deciding whether to share information or comment on it online:

  • Is the information factual? To the best of your ability, can you determine if the information is true? As Christians we don’t want to spread misinformation.
  • Can I tell if the information source is trying to get me to feel a certain way?
  • Am I experiencing a strong emotion or reaction to the information? Agreement? Disagreement? Outrage?
    • If so, am I willing to dig into the source to find the truth of the matter before sharing or commenting?
    • Am I willing to pause before sharing or commenting out of emotion?
    • Am I potentially responding out of a place of bias?
    • Am I willing to face my bias before responding?
  • Will my share or comment bring glory to the Kingdom of God? For example, will I be focusing on:
    • Loving others
    • Lifting up the marginalized
    • Sharing truth to others
    • Bringing peace to a situation or conversation
  • Is this information related to a topic or cause God has asked me to be involved in or pay particular attention to?
  • What are my motivations for engaging with this information? What are my intentions?
  • Would my comment or “share” be better as an in-person conversation? If my goal is to build relationships and community, would talking to someone in my life be a better option than simply sharing an article with them?
  • If I disagree with something online, how can I thoughtfully disagree in a way that invites dialogue, not arguing? How can we create space for dialogue that gets at the root of the topic?

(Note: the term “Information” refers to: videos, articles, tweets, posts, photos, etc., primarily online and in social media.)

These questions won’t change culture overnight. Some people in our circles may click the “comment” or “like” button without thinking or without asking themselves these kinds of questions. But by asking these questions of ourselves, we can do our part to engage positively with our neighbors in the online space.