ANDERSON, S.C. – Just six years after its advent, Twitter boasts around 500 million users and has been recognized by MLA as a citable source in academic papers.
With no “friendships” to maintain, Twitter offers the ultimate in low-maintenance networking. Any user may follow or unfollow any other user. With hashtags, anyone may join any conversion on any topic at any time (using 140 characters or less, of course). Twitter is social media simplicity and freedom. Such freedom, though, brings accountability and breeds etiquette. Users who show little restraint will annoy others, resulting in fewer followers. Those who Tweet carefully will build larger networks, find themselves more connected, and be able to exert more influence. (See www.klout.com to explore social media styles and strategy).
Ethically, Christians must think of Twitter no differently than other forms of speech. The biblical instructions concerning one’s words broadcast from the mouth apply also to words broadcast over social media. Try reading James 3:1-12, and replace each instance of the word “tongue” with “Tweet.” Really. Do it. See what I mean?
While Twitter etiquette is still at its dawn, I offer my simple seven rules for Tweeting with class:
1. Venting your petty frustrations only frustrates others. Complaining about poor service, a homework assignment or your neighbor’s dog isn’t helpful. You may feel better, but your followers won’t. Besides, since when is venting – in any format – OK? (Read that James 3 piece again.)
2. Say what builds up (Ephesians 4:29). This one should go without saying, but be encouraging! I’m often energized and exhorted by what my Christian friends and heroes post on Twitter. In fact, by carefully selecting those I follow, Twitter has actually become very helpful in my own sanctification, as their Tweets remind me of the gospel and God’s calling on my life. Am I doing the same for those who follow me?
3. Tweet the “C’est La Vie” (your “such is life” moments): the funny, the strange, the random and the interesting. A child’s birthday, an exciting development, an unexpected visit, your favorite team. Sharing life is what makes social media just that – social. Even the apostles shared their very lives (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
4. Seize the platform, but don’t make Twitter your pulpit. Tweet Bible verses, quotes from sermons and books, and even your own insights and convictions. Share the gospel and gospel-centered thoughts. Resist the urge, though, to make Twitter your personal sermon to the world. Casual conversation doesn’t afford you such privilege, and neither does Twitter. Your followers are your followers only in the loosely connected, free-to-come-and-go-as-you-please sense, not in the we’re-your-disciples sense.
5. Save your privacy and avoid TMI. As my father once told me, “You can get your skeletons out of the closet without hanging them in the yard.” Not everything should be Tweeted. If you wouldn’t share it in a room full of people at a casual event, then don’t post it on Twitter. Life is peculiar in that the darkest and most delightful moments are deeply personal, even intimate. You can flatter your spouse without embarrassing him or her (or the whole world!). You can share some of your pain without spewing all the mess.
6. Exerting influence isn’t building your brand. In Twitter’s early days, it seemed OK to RT (re-Tweet) a compliment paid to you. As time passed, this practice became less acceptable, and now is nearly Twitter taboo. If, when in public, you don’t say, “Mr. So-and-So said I’m awesome and smart,” then, when on Twitter, also refrain.
7. Keep personal conversations personal. Some back-and-forth is fine, and even a little light-hearted banter can be fun. Remember, though, no one wants to hear a personal conversation in public space – whether in an elevator or on a Twitter page. Use DM (direct message) for private exchanges (even though the true privacy of such information is debatable). Better yet, for very personal matters, use that mobile phone actually to talk to someone.
These are my simple seven. A common thread runs through them. Twitter is a semi-public space. Tweeting is the equivalent of saying something very loudly in a large room full of people with whom you have varying degrees of relationship. Don’t Tweet what you wouldn’t say in that room. Rather, “give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chuck Fuller is assistant professor of Christian studies at Anderson University in Anderson, S.C. This column first appeared at MinistryU.org, a blog of Anderson University’s faculty.)