Facebook, Defamation, and the Gospel

If the title of this post seems paradoxical you have caught my intention. I weary of the voluminous number of untruths, speculations, and libel that I read in Facebook and other social media when I am simply trying to catch up with friends and colleagues. I am particularly distressed when I read posts that fall into the category of Social Media Defamation that come from my former students.

I taught leadership and pastoral ministry courses at three well known Christian Universities in Southern California. My students span decades of my experience. I enjoy seeing the posts of my former students on Facebook or other social media when they share significant life events (marriage, birth of children, personal accomplishments) and career development (pursuit of graduate degrees, appointment to a new pastoral assignment, or new job).

I cringe however when they post unexamined social media nonsense and rubbish. It is not that I want to see uniformity in my student’s theological or political thinking. I cherish well thought out policy discussions and disagreements. I am delighted in theological reflection that challenges assumptions and bias. Either kind of discussion renders a larger perspective for me typically bringing insights I had not considered. My angst is rooted in thoughtless reposts of patently unverified opinion, half-truths, and outright libel. When Social Media Defamation regarding any political leader or any political party or any other person posting on social media is promoted by a former student who identifies with faith in Jesus Christ I cringe. When someone insists that to hold an opposing political view is the equivalent to forsaking faith I cringe. When a post is so filled with vitriol that it is censored by Facebook’s community standards on harassment and bullying and the censored party boasts as though this is some sort of moral or political accomplishment I cringe.

Actual I do more than recoil in the repugnance I find in such posts. I pray and I repent and where I can engage in a discussion I do so.  It is repugnant to me to find students behaving on social media in ways that undermine the good news of Jesus Christ. If there were no reference to knowing Jesus Christ, if having studied theology wasn’t prominently listed in the individual’s profile, I still would pray but I wouldn’t feel the anguish of having another layer of bias to work through in my relationship with people who are struggling to define themselves spiritually, who are working through their own life crisis and who de facto reject the suggestion of God because of the behavior of those who have called themselves Christian but behave no differently than their peers.

So, for my former students (and friends) who take the time to read my posts, I offer some reminders. Social Media Defamation is wrong. One group of attorneys define Social Media Defamation as, “a comprehensive term governing the communication, publication, or act of disseminating a false statement of fact to a third-party, which subsequently causes damage or injury to another party’s reputation.  Social media defamation refers to a libelous or slanderous statement which is made on a social media platform.”[1]  Libel and slander are two types of defamation that may be defined as:

Libel: a written or published (think media, photographs, signs, print, etc.) false assertion of fact to a third-party or audience, which subsequently causes damage or injury to another party’s reputation.

Slander: a spoken communication or dissemination of a false assertion of fact to a third-party, which subsequently causes damage or injury to another party’s reputation.

Before you post, critically assess your sources. Does the post develop a logical case for the conclusion it promotes, or does it fall into the trap of logical fallacies? Does it come from reliable sources that depend on evidence, testimony, facts, or is it rooted in mere opinion? Does the post draw people to the promise of God or does it vilify others who are different? Does the post engage others who may hold different views offering a reason for the conviction held and asking for input that may challenge it?  Does the post respect and values others? Is the post honest about your own questions, fears, or biases?

Please discontinue (repent) the practice of either compartmentalizing faith or expressing a syncretistic faith (remember your lectures in evangelism and cross-cultural ministry). Critically assess your own practice and assumptions by prayerfully reflecting on who Jesus said he was and what he said the kingdom of God was meant to accomplish. Jesus was always clear to differentiate the power of God set to redeem, reconcile, and deliver and political power when it came to the authenticity of what he did and the methods he employed. This doesn’t mean he minimized the influence the kingdom of God has on political power and practice; he never conflated the two.

I am thankful for you. I delight in you. I pray for you. As I said often in class, I am watching you as I know you are watching me. Let’s encourage one another in faith and show the world also watching us that the power and love of God is not wishful thinking or mere fiction but the reality on which our lives are building.

[1] Source: https://www.minclaw.com/review-social-media-defamation-libel/; accessed 25 November 2019.

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