when social media hurts: 10 survival tips

Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. – Psalm 55:22, NIV

by Toni Birdsong

Rejection. Humiliation. Exclusion.

These are just a few of the emotions that can emerge from everyday conversations in a wired world. Be it via an email, a text, or a post, an emotional fray is playing out every second in the digital realm.

You’ve likely been there. And if you haven’t you will be—just give it time.

It looks like this: You try to follow someone on Twitter and realize you’ve been blocked. You visit someone’s wall on Facebook to leave a note and realize you’ve been defriended. You sit home alone on a Friday night and see your best friends on Facebook whooping it up at a party and posting photos—sans you. You post an opinion and someone wails on you—you’ve been flamed. Or, because of your faith, politics, race, or profession, you get rude or even threatening remarks on your blog from a hater or a troll.

When you throw the “public” element of the Internet into the communication mix and the fact that hundreds or even thousands of people are listening in . . . the threat of humiliation triples, and hence the intense emotions.

Studies show that engaging in social networks—in negative encounters—can trigger physical responses such as depression, anxiety, and most recently even asthma attacks as reported in this ABC.com story.

So how do you react? How do you adapt to a culture of substandard communication, come out in one piece, and honor Christ? While each situation will differ, you can gain a healthier perspective about online conflict.

10 ways to handle an online conflict:

  1. Evaluate objectively. Go back over the dialogue that lead up to the conflict and determine if you are responsible. Get another (objective) person’s opinion.
  2. Cool off before clicking. Rather than firing off a response, chill out and log off. Depending on the level of emotion, this may require a few hours or even a few days as a “cooling off” period.
  3. Ask forgiveness if needed. If you realize that you mispoke, relayed incorrect information, or responded inappropriately—then own it. Ask the person (if digitally possible) if they will forgive the offense.
  4. Maintain a “real” perspective. Match the worry to the relationship. Were you close to the person or were they a stranger prone to spar with anyone? Go read their feed/wall/blog to get a full picture. Cyberspace is huge and words are dangerous. If you angst over every person who disagrees with you, you won’t last long. Pray and determine if the issue is worthy to pursue, if not, let it go and move on.
  5. Don’t take it personally. Communicating online leaves a lot to be desired. If humans who talk face-to-face have conflict, you can bet that people writing brief posts will run into collassal confusion over written “intent.” It’s rarely about you and mainly about the medium.
  6. Take the conversation off-stage. Clarify a comment by sending a Direct Message (DM), private message, or email if possible. Chances are you can resolve an ambiguity before it escalates.
  7. Realize where you live. Conflict is part of your life on earth. Interacting online is no different. You may be judged, misunderstood, bullied, and ridiculed. And, there will be times when you will be at fault. It’s human nature this side of heaven and a cultural reality digital communities.
  8. Take it to the throne. God is with you at all times. He knows the snares of the wired world and He is willing to take the burden from you—immediately. Pray for the person with whom you are in conflict. Present your heart to God and let Him sort out the details. Don’t re-engage with others online until your heart is pure and aligned with Christ.
  9. Don’t ignore people. Sure, it’s easy to dismiss, block, or delete a negative comment. However, you may miss an opportunity to echo Christ to your community. Address a comment in love—no matter how different it may be from yours. Sometimes your biggest crtics can end up becoming your biggest fans—if you work through and not around the tough stuff.
  10. Assume the best in others. Simply being alive and pursuing relationship requires courage. That is true of you, and everyone you encounter. Everyone has bad days. Everyone makes mistakes. As Christians, grace is our response. Walking through a conflict with honesty and kindness will speak more about Christ than posting a thousand bible verses . . . and certainly more than automatically hitting the “block” button.

Have you ever had to deal with conflict online? If so, how did you handle it?

Post/Tweet this today:

Lord, make me a digital channel of your peace through which grace and mercy relentlessly flow. Amen. #LiveSticky

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  • http://twitter.com/snidermatthew AtomicPopcorn

    Good tips, but I would say avoid any kind of conversation across any social media outlet if you want to be understood correctly.

    Social Media leaves too much to the way of misinterpretation.

  • http://amysorrells.wordpress.com Amy Sorrells

    Just when I wanted to use my laptop to poke my eyes out, you come along and post this. So grateful for this message this morning. Like a triple antibiotic on my festering, social media heart. Thanks, girls!!!

  • Anonymous

    I love when God comes in with the hook shot like that—right on time! Praying you through the mire today and standing with you trusting God to set hearts right. This is probably one of my favorite topics right now. Such a delicate thing but really one that can zap waaaay tooo much bandwidth from the mission at hand if we let it. Love seeing your face, Amy! Press on, sis!

  • Anonymous

    That is the perfect solution . . . but if that were the case, we would not have the joy of even connecting here on this blog with so many around the world. I’d be fearful of connecting with you now.

    By not being in the conversation because of the bad stuff, we miss the chance to share the good stuff—which is the life saving message. And so worth it. Press on, brother. Never grow weary. God is big enough. :)

  • http://www.sistersadist.com/ Cam

    I needed these reminders today! Thank you! As someone who has been involved in the digital world for the better part of the last 15 years, I have faced every one of these issues and been on both sides. Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    Yowza! I am shaken by this post. Social Media relationships are so different than F2F. I’m learning what this looks like and these 10 points help me to continue to see the picture.

  • Anonymous

    Yay! Sharing experiences and wisdom will make the difference as we forge ahead. Goin’ through it . . . not around it! Thanks, Michelle!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Cam – sounds like you are a veteran. Do you have any tips to add? Would love to hear your wisdom and add to our knowledge. Thanks for dropping by!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=671101964 Jennifer Adams Klein

    Well said! I’ve picked up on a few of these things by trial and–definitely–error! Thanks for laying the ideas out so clearly. Good reminders. Its just SO tempting to fire off replies to aggressive people or those who misunderstand us. Its like fire in the fingers. I’ve gotten into it with my own family on FB! How ridiculous is that? Love and unity. Christ calls us to be peacemakers. That’s the bottom line. And it applies on the computer too!

  • http://www.sistersadist.com/ Cam

    The only advice I could give in addition to all the greatness listed above is when social media and online communities start to get under your skin and cause you real life upset – take a break. Step away from the keyboard and smart phone to gain perspective. It’s easy to get lost and confused in online interactions – connecting face to face with people brings us back into ourselves. Have a beautiful day!!!

  • Anonymous

    Great post and perspective. We need to be prepared for when conflict happen. It’s not a matter of “if” by of “when.”

  • Anonymous

    I’m with you Jen, I am trigger happy and feel I need to respond immediately—to be understood. But, being understood isn’t nearly as important as responding appropriately in a way that honors my faith and my God. I’d rather be a peacemaker than be “right” and on fire even though that goal isn’t always as much fun (hey-just keeping it real!) I’ve never regretted the things I never said . . .

  • Anonymous

    Exactly! Better to be proactive and armed than reactive and regretful. Amen, Maurilio!

  • http://twitter.com/SandraHeskaKing SandraHeskaKing

    There is going to be misunderstanding and conflict in any relationship. These are great tips that should work online and FTF. Analyzing our possible contribution, cooling off in the Throne Room, considering the source, asking questions (I felt this way when you said this–is that what you meant?), and extending grace while believing the best are all good responses.

    It’s easy to assume snark instead of humor. And we need to keep our focus more off ourselves and more on Him.

    So glad you were able to salvage Amy’s eyes!

  • Anonymous

    Howdy Sandy! Yes, ask questions; clarify. Doors seem to fling open when we actually take the time to do that instead of pace inside the minutae of our minds. Yet, we still find the latter so much more comfortable . . . hmmm. Gotta take that to the throne . . .

    It’s always a good day when you know your friend will keep her eyes and mind intact because of a post . . . very good day! :)

  • Anonymous

    I love that suggestion Cam. To just take a break — all digital off and simply breathe before God. It’s easy to get annoyed or frustrated at a flippant comment — I think God allows that human friction to get us running back to Him … where there is peace. Love that you dropped by! :)

  • http://twitter.com/davidbunce David Bunce

    I think that prayer is one of the most important things. When we know ourselves as a child of God, we are in a much better place to respond instead of react, to speak with grace and love rather than constantly feel the need to defend ourselves. It also restores our perspective.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cathilwoods Cathi Woods

    Great wisdom!

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