That tweet happened in the middle of a face to face conversation about the difficulties of tweeting as a public figure – where every word is subject to scrutiny, often by thousands of people. Think @ABCJustin; @pontifex; @stephenfry, any megachurch Pastor. But even for the rest of us, Twitter is not always a safe space. Not to put too fine a point on it, we can tweet hurtful tweets, and be hurt by the tweets we read.
Twitter is a communication tool – a way to build relationships with fellow tweeters. It isn’t storage space; it’s far more akin to a trip to the pub. Others can overhear things that are tweeted, often out of context. A reply to a couple of people can snowball into a conversation involving many. And 140 characters doesn’t leave much space for “what I meant to say was” (because that’s 23 characters gone, just like that). It’s a bit like moving from general conversation to having a heart to heart in the public bar. But in the pub we wouldn’t dream of butting in, on Twitter, butting in is “allowed”
So what to do when I see that tweet to a friend? The one that will cut deep? Do I assume they are a rational, thinking adult, who will walk away? Button pressing doesn’t work like that – or at least, it doesn’t for me. Do I send them a reassuring Direct Message? If the offender is another friend, do I drop them a message instead?. If the offender isn’t a friend, do I interject anyway? Or stand back and watch it unfold? And what if I am the offender? Or part of a debate which started fine and then turned personal? There’s a risk of it all ending up like a playground row, or in a grand dance around the Victim Triangle.
What about if that tweet is aimed at me, right between my eyes?
Is there a proper Christian response?
Perhaps it’s the response which that doesn’t involve promptly typing something vitriolic and pressing “Tweet” (and just because something vitriolic doesn’t contain swearing doesn’t make it the Christian version, trust me).
“Forgive us our sins, as we forgive others who sin against us.” That’s what Jesus taught us to pray. We pray for forgiveness for our own sins, we are expected to forgive the sins that other people commit against us. And to forgive the sins that we think other people have committed against us, which they might not even have noticed, much less intended.
“140 characters is enough for fluff and argument” said my Other Half today – he is rather averse to twitter himself. 140 character sound bites is not much for working out and conveying a nuanced point of view. But maybe 140 characters is plenty in which to say “I’m sorry that hurt you” (23 characters). Plenty for “tell me more” (12 characters). Ample for “I need to go for now, and I will think about what you’ve said” (61 characters). Because we are taught to fight by turning the other cheek, by doing the unexpected. Even if the unexpected thing is to make no reply at all. Oh, by the way, do feel free to argue!