When I began blogging, "Social Media" was not the juggernaut we know today. Oh, I am by no means a forerunner; my initial exposure to blogging was part of a class requirement at my seminary, hardly an institution known for living on the leading edge of new technology. "Online Journaling" had been extant for a decade or more at that point.
That said, it was newish
, from a more widely known perspective-- and the now more popular platforms of Facebook and Twitter did not yet exist. When our professors introduced us to class blogs, and the requirements of posting and commenting, it was certainly new to me and most of my classmates. So in addition to the functional instructions on how to access the blog, post, edit, and comment, we had a discussion about the nature of public discourse. We were reminded that the Internet was a widely public forum
-- much more so than the papers and reports and other projects that were our usual assignments. I can still hear AKMA
's gentle voice reminding us that whatever we wrote would be "readily accessible to anyone-- including Bishops and Standing Committees and Commissions on Ministry."
In fact, this was part of the purpose: we needed to learn to communicate while always keeping in mind that our public discourse was just that-- public
. And we needed to understand that nothing
posted online, however carefully "protected" by passwords or firewalls or pseudonyms, is ever private or free from the possibility of question or argument. If you don't want to be associated with it, or if you're not prepared to defend it, then don't post it.
On Facebook I continue to operate with this reality in mind. I am responsible for anything I post, both in content and in tone. This is especially true when I link to someone else's work (video, article, blog, etc.). That's why there are a lot of posts out there to which I do not link. Some are simply distasteful on their face. Others may indeed be views I share, but they are expressed in a way that is disagreeable, snarky or rude; that is not the way I want to be known, or behavior I wish to uphold, so I don't share them.
And sometimes I simply do not have the energy or inclination to defend a post. Will it surprise you to learn that not everyone I know and love agrees with me on every issue? So sometimes we have discussions about things that I post, or that they do; and I value those conversations. But Virtual Reality is not the only reality I own; Corporeal Life also
matters, and often trumps. I have other ways to spend my time and
energy than online conversations. So sometimes I don't post the link.
But if I do post something, then I expect to stand behind it.
A while back, a relative of mine-- someone with whom I grew up, and who I still care about-- "defriended" me on Facebook. I didn't notice right away; this dear soul is not in the habit of posting daily, and sometimes several days would go by without seeing the familiar name in my news feed.
But I did notice. I missed the postings about family, and life activities. I missed the comments on my own news feed as well, reminding me of connections we share. I missed family
. So I asked-- what had happened? Had this been intentional, or an interface glitch of some sort?
The response I eventually received was a comment about "being tired of defending myself."
I was stricken over this. As it happens, we are often on the opposite sides of a variety of issues. Through this person's links I would often read views and positions that were troublesome to me. Occasionally I chose to respond-- to ask a question, or to comment from the other side of an issue. Now I wondered: when I did so, had I been overly harsh? Had my critiques crossed the line at some point to personal attack? Was I in some way rude, or disrespectful, or unkind?
I cannot go back and read them to check, of course, as I no longer have access to that page. But so far as I'm aware, I always chose to question or comment on the opinion expressed, rather than the person posting it. I try very hard as a matter of course to limit disagreement or dispute to the specific subject at hand, without insult, vulgarity or sarcasm. I had no reason to do otherwise, and every reason to be careful. After all, this was someone I've known my whole life, with whom I share some deep and beloved roots. This was family.
If I knew this would be the result, would I have done anything different? To be honest, I don't know that I would. Don't get me wrong-- I wholly regret that this connection has been severed. I miss hearing about that branch of our common family tree-- pictures and updates, joys and concerns. I miss sharing with someone who gets
my background and foundation because we hold so much of it in common. And it still hurts, that a desire to post political views without dispute was sufficient reason for abruptly severing our relationship. And I pray for reconciliation.
But I still believe that a posted link is the responsibility of
the poster, as well as the original writer. And part of that
responsibility includes being willing to engage in conversation about, and sometimes to defend, views which are made public, even if it is by the magic of social media.