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Online disinhibition effects

Am I alone when I say I hate confrontation?

I know, it’s lame, and confrontation builds character, but I can’t stand it. If I disagree with what you think, I will probably bite my tongue and not say anything. I will let you finish stating your opinion, nod my understanding, then quickly and maybe awkwardly change the subject.

But all of that goes out the window the minute I get online.

There’s something about the Internet that gives a person the confidence to spew forth everything he or she might have been withholding in person. The Internet is the perfect place to pick a fight with a stranger, who may or may not be as educated as you are, correct their grammar and disagree with their political views.

And it’s kind of fun. You see people, maybe even random strangers, liking your comments or favoriting your tweets. You feel validated in the opinions you have. And if for any reason your poor victim actually has something intelligent to say, you can retreat for an hour or two while you think of something clever in reply before once again unleashing your fury.

This is called the online disinhibition effect. It’s when people say or do things online that they wouldn’t normally do in person. On the Internet, it’s OK to act out of character because most people don’t know who you are, they can’t see you or how what they say effects you and what you say has no effect in real time. And this behavior is normal. Studies show that almost everyone becomes disinhibited online, whether they feel more outgoing or whether they feel the need to participate in an argument.

But I wonder how this applies to Christians.

Is it OK for Christians to be tearing others down or calling out their spelling mistakes? If we feel as if we can’t do this in person, why does it become OK to do this online?

I hate to say it, but when someone claims to follow Jesus on his or her Twitter account but publishes hateful comments for the world to see, the image of Christ is tarnished. Christians have an important job to make sure they are representing Christ and shining his light in today’s examining world. We can’t act one way and then another, depending on whether we are on or offline.

The authority of God does not stop at the Internet. Therefore, Christians have an even higher calling to make sure they are following his commandments, even when they are online. An inappropriate tweet or Facebook status is a sin in the eyes of Christ, as he commands us to “put away” careless words (Colossians 3:8). A post published in anger on the Internet never really goes away – it exists for the whole world to see.

The online disinhibition effect is real, and I’ve seen a lot of it in the past weeks as the political world has heated up. Remember friends, what you say online carries weight and will either enhance the kingdom or tear it down. It’s up to you to decide what you do with the power the Internet gives you.

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