Our Digital Tongues

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I am busy trying to finish up my latest book, Keep It Shut, which is due the end of May. This project is all about how we use our words. What to say, how to say it, and when to say nothing at all. It is about the words we speak to our family members, friends, complete strangers, and even what we say online.

Yes. Online.

I’m amazed sometimes at what I see people post on Facebook or Twitter. Sometimes I am shocked by their words. Or their tone. I see people say things I’m sure they would never say in person but somehow they feel empowered behind the computer screen. And I’ve been tempted to do this too. I’ve even had to go back and delete a comment because I knew I shouldn’t say it and I had to be honest that I wouldn’t ever say it to the person’s face.

Our digital tongues matter. That is where I am living this week as I pound out my latest chapter on how we use our words online.

Do you have any thoughts on this? Have you been tempted to say something on Facebook that you probably wouldn’t say to that person if they were standing in front of you? Have you noticed this happen as you view what others say online? Why do you think social media can bring out the snarkiness and even the meanness in people?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Need help with your digital tongues? Check out Keep It Shut, or its 40-day devotional, Zip It.

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22 Comments

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  2. Karen, this is SUCH an important point. Ruth Soukup wrote an excellent post about it recently on her Living Well, Spending Less blog. One thing that I do is always ask my kids before I post anything on facebook about them. They are sensitive adolescents, and I don’t want to offend. I also TRY to think twice or three times before posting anything remotely negative.

  3. I am sometimes reluctant to comment on things online because I have found that people easily misunderstand what I’m trying to say. Rather than being able to talk face to face, where it is easier to read body language or have a good two-sided discussion, we are reduced to trying to read between the lines & not being sure we understand. So many misunderstandings happen that way & the other person may not even realize it.

  4. I agree that Facebook, on anywhere online, for that matter, is the place for people to air their dirty laundry. I use it for the purpose of catching up with friends and family and I love people who post witty and humorous remarks!

    One of things that bothers me the most is what I call, “mystery posts”, where someone will post something accusatory of another person, but not in so much detail that you know the whole story or who it’s about. Those words, then, prompt “friends” to comment, asking what is wrong, or who they’re talking about, etc. I feel like these posters are just looking for someone to comment and listen to their heartache of a story. I just wish they would confront the person directly, or if it has to be, via a FB private message!

  5. I’ve been burned by the digital “freeness.” A friend was upset. Rather than call me or email me with her hurt feelings, she let it rip on FB. I was shocked and angry. Instead of blasting back publicly, I calmly messaged her privately. I am not the only one burned like this. I was hopeful she learned a lesson from that episode but, sadly, I’ve seen it again and again.

  6. Boy does this hit home!! In my line of work, a lot of it is done through e-mail….correspondence to business associates and such, and it’s often very hard not to send off some smart reply when it becomes so frustrating for me to deal with some of these people. Generally, I think, wouldn’t it be so much easier to just pick up the phone, that way I can fully understand what your needs are and maybe we can resolve whatever issue there is. The old fashion way! Through verbal communication. But, sadly, it’s a thing of the past. Now, I just try to remember before hitting the “send button”…that just because I can, doesn’t mean that I should! Hopefully that has deferred many an argument. Plus, it goes back to what our mothers always told us as children, “If you haven’t anything nice to say – then DON’T say it!”

  7. ABSOLUTELY Karen! I am astounded by what people will say in comment forums (with newspaper articles, for example). I think to myself when I read them, “Do these people have nothing else to do with their time than to sit online and spew nastiness at/about others?” I typically skip comment sections for that reason. Thoughtful, reasonable people…the one’s who’s opinions I might find interesting…are not the ones who are commenting.

    On a related note…TONE of what we write, especially online…emails, etc. is as important as the words themselves. I read and re-read my emails or comments (like this one) before I hit the send button. Once I hit send, I cannot take it back and I cannot adjust the tone. I try to make sure that it will be very difficult for the reader to misinterpret my tone.

  8. I do totally agree. I have seen (and been on the receiving end) of someone saying things that would never have been said face-to-face. I have had to delete a reply of my own to just such a comment. Unfortunately what most don’t understand, and sometimes even those that do understand can forget, is that once something is said, even an apology (or hitting the delete button) doesn’t truly erase the words and the feelings that resulted.

    Great post and reminder.
    ?Anita

  9. First of all thank you Karen for your words of wisdom. For allowing God to use you to empower other women to speak Gods word boldly. As for social media posting I believe for some people this is the only time they feel they are heard. Some are righteous people when in public showing the world how good they are. But in their private time they are lost, lonely or insecure feeling as if they are anonymous when on line. Some just don’t care what they say. Just my thoughts.

  10. I am sure there is a Bible verse that we shouldn’t say or post the first thought to pop in our heads and wait to cool off. Also, if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say or type anything.

  11. I have experienced this too. I have also made a joking comment on a family members post and she didn’t take it jokingly and she blew up at me and it ended up hurting my relationship with her. It’s better now. We spoke over the phone and through messages in order to clear the air and now I make sure that what I type and post is worded carefully and if I mean something as a joke, i put a smiley face beside it. And a friendship was destroyed by social media and digital tongues. As a result, i am very careful about what I post on facebook.

  12. Karen, be sure to add e-mails to that list. In businesses, it is so easy to reply with a “tart” response because something has hit us wrong. However, we have no idea how that will used by the recipient, so we need to be very careful.

  13. “Virtual reality” makes it so easy to see other people as 2-D aviators rather than think of them as real live individuals, dearly loved by God. Because they are already reduced to pixels, we easily reduce them down to a single idea — one we can judge and react to. Only instead of reacting to the idea, we react to the entire person.

    Individual postings in cyberspace often lack relational and emotional context, making it even easier for us to interpret them according to what we read into them. We’re missing the physical cues of face-to-face conversation — body language, vocal intonation, facial expression, etc.

    I can’t tell you how many former students I’ve chosen to un-friend because I can’t stomach the way they put their relational issues out for the world to see. I know every generation bemoans the current generation, but I do believe that marriages need to remain private and that conflicts should not be duked out via Facebook.

    I am worried about the social and emotional development of those who spend lots of time online. With lowered f-2-f contact comes a reduction in empathy. Even as researchers like Brene Brown are teaching us about the importance of authenticity, so many are focusing on “identity management.”

  14. I agree that we need to be mindful of what we say online! Many times I am shocked at what people will say or post for the whole world to see. And I wonder why it’s OK to be so mean or opinionated online. I think the fact that it is so impersonal has a lot to do with it. But people need to remember their names are attached to these statements. It’s not anonymous. I also agree that if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face or in a group of people you were looking at then you shouldn’t type it and post.

    I am first among people who has an opinion about things and the ability to be more than a little mean or snarky. It is something the Lord has worked on with me for years. I can’t tell you the number of times my fingers have started to fly across the keyboard, words stringing together in my mind like poison poetry and then the Holy Spirit nudges my shoulder…”do you really want to say that? Do you remember that truth can be wielded like a weapon? What about love, compassion, grace?” So, I erase. And I praise the Lord for being faithful to continue to work in my imperfect personality. And I feel blessed to be growing in my relationship with a loving Father who doesn’t let me strike out — even in “righteous” indignation.

  15. I am not on facebook and this is one of the reasons. We are a “low drama” family who tries to avoid those types of situations. My kids both avoid facebook as much as possible because they cannot stand the drama and snarky or ugly comments people make about others. I love that you are writing this book and look forward to getting a copy. People really need to re-think what they post in social media. If you won’t say something to someone’s face, or if you would be embarrassed to have them overhear you saying something, why then would it be okay to post it? What happened to kindness?

  16. I feel like the whole world needs to remember the basics that our Mothers and Grandmothers taught us: “If you don’t have something nice to say…”. It seems like the internet has gotten people thinking that everyone needs their opinion and/or wants it! Our generations’ “poison pen letters”. Sad but true!

  17. This is so true! I think the on line communication takes away the humanity out of communication. It is as if there is not really a flesh and blood person reading anything on the other side of the computer so we respond without any thought. It also seems to me that there is an ever growing need to voice our opinion about things, even those that are not any of our concern. How many of us have seen news articles re-tweeted or re-posted and everyone adds their two cents? I can’t wait to read your new book!

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