Thursday, January 29, 2015

Editorial: Be vigilant about your comment section

Either through AOL chat, online newspapers, bulletin boards, blogs, Facebook, or Twitter I've been running online comment sections since 1999. I've had a lot of experience seeing how people choose to say things either openly or anonymously. I've also seen a steep decline in the quality of online (and real life) discourse.

By 2004 online newspapers and blogs became ubiquitous. That year was dubbed Year of the Blog. Anonymous commenting flourished. Prior to this, the only public discourse available was tightly controlled. Letters to the Editor had to be signed with your real name, and include a telephone number so the editor could call to verify. Journals and other publications demanded the same. The internet either wasn't invented or it was so new, not everyone was online. Books went through an even tighter process, if you could even reach the front door of a publishing house. Handing out personal leaflets or pamphlets was looked upon with suspicion, especially if someone was handing them out while standing on a street corner. To use a microphone at a public meeting you had to sign your name and be called to the podium. If your discourse was too inflammatory, your mic would be shut off. If someone wanted to say something publicly either in oral or written form, it was very hard, and there was no such thing as anonymous commenting. (Benjamin Franklin's penchant for pseudonymous commenting notwithstanding).



It's amazing to me that it's been 11 years since the Year of the Blog and 16 years since the internet with its comment forums, bulletin boards and comment sections has become part of normal daily life. That short history lesson was needed, because 16 years is a long time and many of the younger brethren don't know what it was like before we could easily and anonymously say anything, anytime, anywhere.

I've enjoyed the loosening of the forums available to the public in order to employ free speech and I am a great advocate of the internet as a freely available place to exchange ideas. However with great freedom comes great responsibility, Eleanor Roosevelt said. Many people fail to take their responsibility for measured speech responsibly, and the devil is having his heyday.

Just as we thrill to the idea that we can support international ministries like Grace to You which reaches a huge audience, and just as we can responsibly use social media and the Internet to get the message of Jesus across to a wider audience ourselves, so satan uses social media too. He captured Hollywood and then the networks and then cable. Now online Christian newspapers, blogs, forums and the like are bastions of false doctrine, angry rhetoric, and tarnished witness.

The bible has a lot to say about how a Christian should speak, and also what to do when speaking to and dealing with non-believers. Over 70 times in the bible we read proverbs, commands, and advice for proper speech.

I'd like to take a moment to discuss online Christian speech and to bring us back to the biblical standards for how to react to hateful speech, scornful speech, sarcastic speech, and mocking speech. The bible says a lot about how WE are supposed to conduct ourselves in discourse, but today I'd like to comment on how to proceed when faced with less than desirable comments online, AKA, moderating.

What do you do when faced with someone's sarcastic, mocking comment, or seems to want only to argue?

The short answer is: delete them without a second thought. If necessary, block them. More on why in a moment.

Here is the lesson. I've noticed a marked upswing in scornful and hateful comments. In some examples it's obvious that they should be deleted. The other night I received a comment responding to an essay that simply said, in all caps, "I HOPE YOU ALL DIE." I actually laughed at that one, because we all do die. The sad or happy part is what comes after for each of us.

But satan is a subtle creature and he instills a sly menace in some comments, comments that on the surface seem like they should be engaged with but are only there to cause a hindrance to pursuit of God's glory. Another commenter said the other night,
It consistently amazes me how you pick and choose bible verses that are applicable to your argument, yet call out "false prophets" for doing the exact same thing.

The clues in this comment are the word 'consistently' (he keeps reading this blog enough to think I do something consistently which in his opinion is stupid. My question is, why keep reading?), the scare quotes around the phrase "false prophet" (Scare quotes are often used to express skepticism, disapproval, or derision, says the journalism dictionary, and writers are advised to use them sparingly) and the ad hominem charge with no supporting data. An ad hominem attack is simply an attack on the writer's character. Lacking data, reason, or logic, they usually just fall back to "you're a big huge poopyhead." They rarely if ever use a name.

I responded like this:
Can you show me an example of which verse I've used incorrectly, and show me how the verse should be understood? Anonymous, you have scare quotes around the phrase "false prophets". Does this mean you believe there aren't any? Or, do you believe the ones I've called out are not actually false? Please use scripture to help us understand your meaning.
I'm serious here. The Internet is a cold screen, and facial expressions and tone won't come through. Maybe I misunderstood the person, and I'd like to give the person a chance to respond with scripture and facts in order to understand their intent and position.

Sometimes they respond positively, and we can go on in unity under the love of Christ, gaining a better understanding. However in this particular example, when I asked Anonymous to provide bible verses he said, "That's a nice little trick there." Then he simply made more ad hominem charges. I deleted the comment. Why?

1. If they are a non-believer, why allow them to co-opt the discussion and insert false doctrine or destroy the tone? Also, you can't disciple a goat into a sheep.
2. If they are a believer, why allow them a forum to further dig themselves into a sin-hole?

Discernment lesson: Don't let trolls online or people in real life sway you from a focus on Jesus with the bible as the basis. Scripture is the only truth, and the only means when discussing Him to arrive at a reasonable conclusion. (Isaiah 1:18, 2 Timothy 3:16). If they refuse, you know they aren't genuinely striving to glorify Jesus or trying to help you (or me). In these cases, sadly, the bible says plenty about conversations like the one Anonymous wanted to have.

Since their conversation doesn't emanate from above, but from within, "Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly." (Proverbs 26:11)

"A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion." (Prov 18:2). This goes both ways, for the commenter, but also for the Moderator. Once we stray from scripture, everything else is our own opinion and I would quickly become foolish too. That's why I'm vigilant, I don't want to provide a forum for a fool to increase his sin nor to provide a pit for me to fall into. I"m a sinner too.

In these cases when the person persists in their opinion and becomes more heated, we shake the dust off and leave them be. (Mark 6:11). "Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; " (2 Timothy 2:23)

Otherwise,

"Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself." (Proverbs 26:4)

I say all this to let you know that if you run a blog, forum, or comment stream, like on Facebook, to not be hesitant to delete, refuse to engage, or leave people like this alone. In cases like these I delete and don't think twice. No regrets. Sometimes I think we are so full of love and care for everyone to come to Christ we engage in conversations that are better left alone, which only end up damaging our own character as we sin by falling into sarcasm, anger, or "foolish controversies." If you run an online forum or facilitate a real life group, don't damage your own witness by over-extending into the fool's sphere. To keep a clear head, it's simple- always stay with scripture as the basis for any conversation. It is scripture that convinces, convicts, and saves. Not my opinion- or theirs.

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. (James 1:26)

The other important reason to be strict about not letting the conversation stray too far off scripture and off the point is that we don't want to be a place where doctrinal confusion reigns. I refuse to allow this blog or any other forum I moderate to become a hindrance to the growth of a weaker brother or sister. I do not want to confuse anybody! Questions are fine, discussion is fine, but allowing people with an agenda to promote their false doctrines won't happen here.

I can't tell you how many people comment about the 'fact' that Darby invented the rapture, or how John MacArthur is a false teacher, or how Beth Moore must be a good teacher because she "helped" someone feel better about themselves. And don't even get me started on how many people write to me with their dream or vision. Those comments will never see the light of day. Not. Gonna. Happen. I am responsible to Jesus for everything I say and everything I do. I won't be part of helping to send a sister off in a wrong direction under the false notion of "fairness" or "love" to a person who may have mal-intent or is just plain wrong. I truly love my brethren too much for that.


So do not let anyone guilt you into publishing their comment, or worse, their essay as a guest writer, just because they have a misunderstanding of what censorship and free speech is. Not publishing a comment isn't destroying their free speech. It's called moderating. Free speech means any person can go start their own blog and they can comment all day and all night if they want, and here in America for the time being, people can still do that.

Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.. (Proverbs 21:23)

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)

13 comments :

  1. Makes perfect sense. People kill me on blogs and forums when they start hollaring about free speech when their comments are deleted. It's the same as if someone came into my own home. If they wanted to talk about something I did not want discussed in my home, I reserve the right to send them out the door. Free speech isn't a license to say what you want wherever you want. People have forgotten that the 1st Amendment is about the right to publicly write about or speak out against government without fear of persecution and/or death. But, of course, in this day and time.... it's all about US!

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  2. Have to agree that scripture must have the final say. Elizabeth, I don't expect you to publish this, but please hear me out.

    Prophecies in scripture are often quite specific. The ones in Revelation dealing with the people receiving the mark of the beast say several things, all of them in a negative light. Is it not the height of presumption to say you can take the mark and still be saved? None of the verses indicate those people repent.

    Secondly, an honest reading of 1 Corinthians would never lead someone to believe that people in their body were using satanic gifts. If that were the case, Paul would not have regulated it (1Cor 14:26-40) nor specifically told them not to forbid tongue speaking.

    I fear that you are doing the very thing you warn us about. And that is shielding John MacArthur when he takes the aforementioned unscriptural positions.

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    1. He doesn't take the unscriptural position. Dr MacArthur doesn't need "shielding" by me.

      I don't publish those comments because they've been addressed. I'll do it once more.

      Phil Johnson commented for MacArthur on that subject recently here
      http://www.gty.org/Blog/B131030

      The clip people are referring to where Dr MacArthur said anyone taking the Mark of the Beast can be saved afterward, is from 1980, 33 years ago, and the piece was from a Q&A (not a sermon). Here, http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/1301-I/

      He preached it rightly in 1993, here
      http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/66-48, referring to Rev 14:9 and stated flatly that if you take the mark you'll be tormented by God's wrath forever.

      And I every time it was mentioned after that date it was also preached rightly.

      At the Strange Fire conference Dr MacArthur said in typical humble fashion, that he knows he is wrong somewhere and if someone will point it out to him, he will gladly correct it. And on this issue, it is now corrected. So the ones like you who go from blog to blog with their "news" need not do so. Now you know it was a 33 year old statement, uttered once, amid the thousands of correct scriptural positions he has correctly preached through the entire New Testament over fifty years.

      As for an "honest reading", what I say to you and all the people who flog this dead horse is, how about an honest listening?

      Delete
  3. This was really helpful to me and I don't write a blog or anything. The list of scriptures pertaining to our speech was wonderful to read through. Isn't it amazing how God gives us so many words to show us how to live? He knows how these mouths can get us into trouble! Your approach to moderating is very sensible and as a regular reader I appreciate the conversation in the comments sans added confusion. I have frequently benefited from your other readers who often use scripture and teach me as well. Keep up the great work!
    Melissa

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  4. If we don't have access to you by phone, email or in person, some blogs may end up being in a more personal, one-to-one format, and we shouldn't expect them to be posted. Sometimes you will not agree with our opinion or a statement of ours, and you will feel that the majority wouldn't either- and it is not posted. All the above is fair. We simply agree to disagree and move on. We are all on a great adventure, but each journey is unique. I too have noticed a tremendous uptick in just pure meaness in the comments section on YT etc. I think that they are told to seek out Christian sources and post disheartening comments to cause destruction. It will only get worse. But we are in training, after all. The battle awaits us. How good a soldier are we?

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    Replies
    1. Hi Karen,

      Thanks for your comment. It reminded me I should say that my email is listed on the side about halfway down and anyone can email me with further questions or issues etc.

      Melissa,

      I agree, I always benefit from astute readers especially when they post scripture, too. I LOVE it when people do that.

      Delete
  5. Hi Elizabeth, a very timely post, drenched in the wisdom from above. Proverbs is very clear on how we are to engage those the Bible identifies as "fools". Lest we think entangling ourselves with them is wise, we are told that it is better to meet a she bear robbed of her cubs than to trifle with a fool in their folly.

    Personally, I have trimmed down my blog participation to those whose writers consistently moderate their comments and keep things Christ-honoring. I have walked away from blogs where the comments section is allowed to become a battlefield of ad hom attacks and false doctrine.

    -Carolyn

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  6. Another excellent post, Elizabeth, with great reminders from scripture. I need to read proverbs more. In my daughter's class a few weeks ago, they were told told to pick the proverb of their choice to memorize. She chose Proverbs 10:19 When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. I thought this was awesome! I'm ashamed to admit it, but I had not heard this verse. Makes me think of people who say a whole lot of words, but no one is really sure what they just said.

    thanks for the post!
    Diana

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  7. I have had to block many from my blog for just the reasons you mention. Sometimes their comments are on track, but their name links to a site promoting false teachings, so I post the comment but delete the links.

    I think one of the worst things about the Internet is anonymity. People can hide who they are and be as obnoxious, hateful, etc, as possible because of their anonymity. I have always thought anonymity in these situations was cowardice. I use my real name in every thing I write, wether letters to the editor, my blog, comments on other blogs, etc.

    Anonymity is the curse of the Internet

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  8. I only have a smart phone to use, so your email address is not visible to me : (
    On another note entirely, I was just thinking this morning that there is an alarming, evil trend for men to kill their mothers. Recently in a small town south of where I live, a man murdered his mother and sought out her best friends, killing some of them too. I was pondering on this hatted for women in society, and was wondering if it's just retribution on the gender, in retaliation for the high rate of abortions in this country?

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    1. Karen, I am alarmed at the sudden seeming increase in horrific family murders. I was pondering whether to write about it. The subject is so tragic though. But you raise a good point and an interesting question.

      We know that Jesus said the time of the end would get worse and worse until Jesus returns. The end time is since He ascended and will end when He returns (not the rapture, the physical return on the Mt of Olives). Paul wrote the same to Timothy.

      So it stands to reason that the following verses, though horrific in Paul's day would be even more ubiquitous now. Especially the first verse.

      1. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, Matthew 10:21

      2. Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” Luke 12:51-53

      3. But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, 2 Timothy 3:1

      Jesus said the time of the very end will be like Noah's day. We know that from Genesis 3, the Fall, and Gen 4, the first murder, men's sin quickly outpaced what the earth could handle, as seen in Genesis 6, when every thought of all men was only evil continually. Is this what we are seeing now? An increase in sin that when the Spirit stops His restraining ministry will unleash all that and more? I wonder.

      Delete
  9. Thank you for this article Elizabeth. I read a lot of comments from the different Christian web sites I visit. There are always negative comments on them. It makes me wonder why they are reading it in the first place. Do they really think their fowl mouths or negativity will make a Christian say....hey, I want to be just like this person! If they only knew how they themselves come across in these comments. I totally agree, that if you want to disagree, back it up with scripture, then we are all on the same playing field. All humans make mistakes, I am thankful the the Bible's Truths. God Bless you Elizabeth.

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  10. Concerning Beth Moore helping someone feel better about themselves - well, how did she accomplish that? By telling them that they're a depraved sinner whose heart is desperately wicked and they are dead in their trespasses and sins unable to please God without Christ? Actually, reading the Bible can make a person feel worse about themselves - yep, I'm guilty of that and that, and I surely can't accomplish that on my own. I need Jesus to rescue me from myself. Now THAT makes me feel better. Is that how she helped someone to feel better about themselves?

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