Say what you will about the positives of social media (and certainly there are quite a few positives), but near the top of the negative column has got to be social media’s propensity for gaffes, slips, and careless no-filter missteps.
Social media (Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc) operates under the real-time logic of “share what’s on your mind NOW” bite-sized communication. It favors non-reflective pronouncements and emotional rants, and abhors the slow-down-let’s-think-about-this mindset which might cause someone to (heaven forbid) think twice about posting an update. As a result, people are frequently tweeting before they think about the ramifications. High-profile politicians are not immune (think Anthony Weiner), nor are celebrities (Chris Brown, Glenn Beck, etc).
Even prominent evangelicals like pastor John Piper have unleashed questionable tweets, such as the infamous “Farewell, Rob Bell” missive, or his more recent “five-year-olds who find sex boring” tweet.
Then there was Mark Driscoll’s recent Facebook post about effeminate worship leaders, which set off a firestorm after Rachel Held Evan’s took him to task in a well-circulated blog post.
What’s going on here?
It seems clear that social media is particularly gaffe-prone. And it also seems clear that anyone on social media needs to try harder to slow down and think through what they will communicate on these platforms.
Though social media certainly lends itself to a sort of on-the-fly pontificating, it’s a much more effective tool when exercised with restraint and bolstered by some semblance of strategy and big-picture thinking. In the same way that you would read and re-read an important email to one person, is it too much to ask to read and re-read a tweet or Facebook status update that goes out to hundreds or thousands?
Poorly thought-out messages on social media can do severe damage, both to the sender and to the many receivers who happen to be scrolling through their feeds at any given moment. The impersonal, easy-as-1-2-3 nature of this sort of communication makes it easy to say wildly emotional, exaggerated, inflammatory things without feeling the sort of reticence one might feel in a more personal or face-to-face setting. And the required brevity of posts (140 characters or less on Twitter) makes it hard to communicate context or nuance.
This is not to say that one should refuse to use Twitter and other social media platforms to sound off on hot topics or to speak strongly about something. It can be done well. I just think we’d all be a bit better off if we had a more careful, deliberate approach… opting to not necessarily tweet every thought we have about any given thing, but to consider that sometimes saying nothing is better than squeezing an essay-length diatribe into a woefully truncated package and letting it loose on the world.