Whether you are a tween, a teen, a pastor, a politician, a grandma, or a grad student, whether you blog, tweet, post, or pin, here is the one indispensable social media rule you must follow if you want to be wise, edifying, and save yourself a lot of anguish:

Assume that everyone, everywhere will read what you write and see what you post.

No matter your settings or how tight your circle is, you ought to figure that anyone in the world could come across your social media. All it takes is a link or a search or a bunch of friends you don’t know gathered around a phone that belongs to someone you do know. Anyone can see everything. Your pastor, your parishoners, your ex-whatever, your boss, your prospective employer, your spouse, your kids, your in-laws, your I don’t know if people forget  fans, your constituents, your opponents, your enemies, your parole officer, the girl you like, the dude who freaks you out, the feds, the papers–assume everyone can read your rant and see your pics.

I’m not a conspiracy theorists or a worry-wort. I’m not saying the IRS is spying on you at this moment or That Guy is stalking you. But you ought to assume that any of them could if they really wanted to.

It’s amazing what some people post online. Do we forget that a thousand other folks are reading this intimate declaration of marital affection or this lambasting of all that their family holds dear? I wonder if people realize that what we post is who we are to hundreds or thousands of people. So no matter what we think we are like in real life, to most people who know of us, they only know us as that guy obsessed with Ron Paul or that girl obsessed with dieting or the pastor who seems to hate everyone or the cynical college kid or the older checking out strange things through Socialcam.

Remembering this one indispensable rule should remind of us two related guidelines for Christians.

First, you represent Christ in a real way even if it is in the virtual world. Most people will know that you go to church, what church you go to, and that you claim to be a Christian. So let’s all think before we post. If we go by the name of “little Christ” we ought to be careful to show a little more Christ.

Second, if you need to be critical (and my blog is critical at times) write in such a way that you would not be embarrassed to have the object of your criticism read it with his mother nearby. This doesn’t mean we have to be lily-livered or call for the nice police every time a Christians disagrees strongly with some other person or idea. It means we should be humane and remember we are writing about other humans. By God’s grace, it took me only a week in blogging to learn this lesson. One of my first blogs (now deleted) was a snarky post about an author I wasn’t too keen on. Several days later I was speaking at an event when one of the close friends of this author came up and rebuked for my snark. I have to say he was right. Even though I had legitimate criticisms of this author’s views, my post didn’t edify and didn’t take into account that a real person would read what I wrote.

This was a valuable lesson for me as a blogger, one that I still need to recall and one that many authors, bloggers, pundits, and critics never seem to heed. In our internet age even the most famous people can come across what some unfamous person says about them. And just because someone is famous or rich or powerful or will never meet us doesn’t mean our words can be careless and callous. Even though my writing can be polemical I always try to keep in mind: how would I feel to meet this person face to face or have him call me up sand say “I just read what you wrote on your blog.” Rick Warren, John Piper, President Obama, Lebron James–love ’em or leave ’em, agree or disagree, commend or criticize, they still deserve to be treated with basic human dignity.

So be careful little fingers what you post. The internet is like God and like the devil. It sees all and forgives nothing. Knowing this, I will still tweet and blog, and I’m sure I’ll make mistakes from time to time. But I hope I wont forget the one indispensable rule. Remember, the web that gives you access to the world allows for worldwide access to you. And if you don’t like that bargain, you can always shut the screen, put down the phone, and stop feeding the beast.