What might be some indicators to consider before you publish a blog, Facebook status, or tweet?
I want to offer 12 brief questions to ask. Think of them as indicator lights, the kind a pilot checks before take off.
1. Will it edify? Or significantly inform a useful conversation? (Mark 12:29–31; 1 Cor. 14:26)
Think of what will edify others. All we do is in obedience to the command to love God and others. How will it increase their knowledge, faith, or love? Am I accurately representing positions you disagree with? Am I sure of my facts? Trivialities hopefully fill up our lives less than they do so much of the Internet.
As John Piper has said, “One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove on the Last Day that our prayerlessness was not from lack of time.” He’s right.
2. Will it be easily misunderstood? (John 13:7; 16:12)
The privacy of a personal conversation limits misunderstanding. Some public posts will sound one way to those who know us and another to those who don’t. Negative assessments are often best shared privately, or not at all. How many of us have learned at our workplace that e-mail is a terrible way to share negative comments? When it comes to public postings, ask yourself: Are there reasons I may not be a good person to speak on certain matters?
3. Will it reach the right audience? (Mark 4:9)
If you’re correcting someone, should the audience be wide—or more narrow? Is that audience correctable? When you use social media, consider who’s listening. What if everyone in your church eavesdropped on your conversations today? Yet we do this all the time online.
4. Will it help my evangelism? (Col. 1:28–29)
Is what you’re about to say going to help or hinder those you’re evangelizing? Is it likely to diminish the significance (to them) of your commitment to the gospel, or enhance it?
5. Will it bring about unnecessary and unhelpful controversy? (Titus 3:9)
Think carefully about controversy. The line between the vigorous exchange of ideas and a kind of social war is sometimes thinner than we think. What’s this particular controversy to which I’d be contributing good for? Might it be unhelpful? How much time will it take up? Is this an unavoidable primary issue, or a matter about which disagreement is fairly unimportant? Will this controversy play into any other division that threatens the unity of my local church?
6. Will it embarrass or offend? (1 Cor. 12:21–26)
Will anyone be embarrassed or offended by what you’re saying? I understand that the mere fact something is offensive doesn’t mean saying it is wrong, but we must be sure it’s worth it.
7. Will it convey care? (1 Cor. 12:21–26)
Will those mainly concerned appreciate your motives? Privacy in communication conveys care, an honoring of the person receiving the information. You like the fact that your doctor’s report is private, but you don’t mind that the store’s sale is advertised. If someone would rather be addressed in person, why not do that?
8. Will it make people better appreciate someone else? (1 Cor. 12:21–26)
Point out God’s grace in the lives, ministries, and arguments of others. Highlighting something that will build esteem for someone else glorifies God and encourages others to see his work in them.
9. Is it boasting? (Prov. 27:2)
Does what you communicate online draw attention to yourself more than your topic? How could that be spiritually harmful? Will it leave people with a more accurate understanding of yourself? Are you simply being tempted to draw attention to what you know? When was the last time you encouraged others by sharing something embarrassing or even sinful about yourself?
10. Is the tone appropriate? (2 John 1, 12; Col. 4:6; Eph. 4:29; 2 Tim. 2:24–25)
Will people understand and be encouraged in the truth you communicate? How important is the tone to your message being rightly received? Is it evidently kind, patient, and gentle? The literal tone of your voice and the look on your face fill out so much of what you mean. In a personal conversation, you can more quickly understand that something needs clarifying. The Internet doesn’t sanctify anger or frustration.
11. Is it wrong to say nothing? (Rom. 1:14)
Do you have an opportunity or even a responsibility to communicate something? Some of you do this for your job. Have you established a “relationship” with readers, friends, and followers online that would expect you to comment on a particular issue or situation? Our freedom of speech is a wonderful stewardship. Use it well and responsibly.
12. What do others advise? (Prov. 11:14; 15:22; 24:6)
When you’re about to communicate something provocative, do you have good sounding-boards to help you estimate the response? Do you take the time to consider before you publish? Speed of response is both an ability of the Internet and a temptation to speak too quickly (contra James 1:19; Prov. 10:19; 14:29; 16:32; 17:27). Remember, you will give an account for every word you type (Matt. 12:36). Does saying things at a “safe distance” from people tempt us to say things we wouldn’t say in person?
Perhaps you could write down these questions and ask a friend to look over your social media feeds with them in mind. Or, even ask someone you know disagrees with you on an issue you’ve posted about and see what they say.
Editors’ note: This article originally appeared at 9Marks.