One of the biggest challenges of saying things on social media is dealing with the comments. The problem is not the comments that are supportive, or the comments that genuinely seek after the truth. It’s the other ones. You know the ones I mean. The nasty, toxic, unfair comments intended to hurt, the quarrelsome comments that try to provoke, and the comments that are obscene or profane, that are the real problem. What to do about those?
Let’s consider a straightforward case first. When comments are sexual, obscene, abusive or profane, they need to be shut down immediately: no discussion, no delay, just block them: they are completely unacceptable. Unfortunately, social media allows anyone to comment, even people who have serious moral or ethical impairments, who are not in control of themselves, or whose minds are simply not working properly. There are no useful discussions to be had with such: just block and report, using the appropriate mechanisms of your social media platform.
A more difficult case are the comments that are slanderous lies, designed to hurt. Jesus faced some of those. One example in the Gospels is when he was falsely accused by the Pharisees of doing what he did through demons [Matthew 12:24]. This of course is complete nonsense, as Jesus pointed out at the time [Matthew 12:25-28]. Lies like this are not real claims meant for discussion (note the lurid nature of the accusation, meant to shock). They are attacks, meant to hurt. Jesus tells us to expect this sort of thing, and if they come in response to telling the truth about him, to rejoice when it happens, because it puts us in good company, and God will reward us:
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. [Matthew 5:11-12]
Jesus did not take slanderous lies to heart, he recognized them for what they are: hatred, not truth. When these happen to you on social media, do not take them to heart yourself. You didn’t “say something wrong”, you said something right, something that somebody else hates. Their comment is not really about you, it is about them. Recognize this, and be encouraged as Jesus suggests: you are in good company. Be willing to use the various features of social media, such as block or mute, to keep things manageable. If the hatred crosses the line of what is acceptable on the social media platform you are using, consider reporting it using the appropriate mechanisms.
Another sort of negative comment comes from people who simply want to quarrel. The reason they quarrel is that they want something they don’t have, so like a petulant teenager, they argue. One thing they might want is to get you annoyed (i.e. trolling), in the hopes of provoking you to say something unpleasant that you wouldn’t ordinarily say. They may want to do this for entertainment purposes, or to discredit you. Or they may be trying to overcome you by the power of their rhetoric, perhaps to cow you into submission, or at least to make you retreat into an embarrassed silence. Sadly, this sort of quarrelsome behavior sometimes happens among Christians. It happened in the early Church: in the Epistle of James, the apostle chides his community about this, saying to them, “… you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. ” [James 4:2] Christian or not, disputes and conflicts that go nowhere are of no benefit. They just upset people and waste time. The best way to avoid them is to shut down quarrels as soon as you identify them as quarrels. If you see telltale signs that the person expressing opposition is quarrelling (such as unfair accusations, name-calling, sophistry, hyperbole, and overblown rhetoric), don’t continue arguing. Call it out, and use the block or mute features of social media to put a quick end to the conversation. Yes, some may be annoyed by your cutting off the conversation early, but you’ll have to cut it off eventually, and they’ll be annoyed then anyway. You might as well get it over with quickly, before the quarrel uses up your time, patience and energy, and drives away your listeners.
In general, when you see negative comments, the key to dealing with them is to notice quickly what they are, and act on them right away. Do not be afraid to use whatever tools your social media platform gives you, such as blocking or muting. Don’t dally with hateful, abusive, quarrelsome trolls: they do not have a genuine interest in the truth. If you engage, they will use up your time, your mental energy and your patience. Save your energies for those who are legitimately seeking the truth. You may face opposition, as Jesus did, but with his help, you will make it through.