A plea to John Piper on the use of social media

There’s been a lot of blogospheric noise today around a tweet that Pastor John Piper made yesterday in the aftermath of the Oklahoma tornado. Piper quoted two verses from Job. After a lot of furor around those tweets, Piper first deleted those tweets, then tweeted something more clearly comforting. Finally, this afternoon the Desiring God website posted a clarification article, explaining that Pastor John’s motivation for his original tweet and his following actions.

Ever since childhood I’ve been the youngster advising the older ones on technology. At the risk of impertinence, there are a few things about the use of social media that I’d like to offer as advice to Pastor John (or any of us using Twitter, et al.).

There is value in using social media. Let me start by commending you, Pastor John, for using Twitter in the first place. The internet has provided us many ways to communicate, and it takes courage and wisdom to dive in at all. Keep at it! Even if folks regularly disagree with you, the message is getting out.

It’s really easy for things to be taken out of context. Especially when you only get 140 characters at a time. I don’t think I need to say more.

Nothing on the internet ever really goes away. Yes, Twitter provides that nifty delete button. I use it myself once in a while – usually when I make an embarrassing typo that I want to correct. But especially for those with a large following, things never really disappear. It takes only a second to make a screenshot of a tweet or a web page, and then that image can persist forever.

You cause more questions by deleting. In my experience, it almost always raises more attention to have deleted the offending tweet or blog post than it would to leave the post in place and follow it up. This is especially true on Twitter, where tweets are usually just seen once as they flow through someone’s timeline. There’s no great additional harm done in leaving the tweet up, but it feeds furor and suspicion when you take it down.

Use the same channel to apologize. A pastor of mine once advised that my apology for an offense should be as public (or private) as the original offense. In this case, it would be wise to offer the apology on the same channel as the offense. It’s clear from the DG post, Pastor John, that you meant no harm or offense to those suffering from the storm, and your follow-up tweet helped clarify. But the contrition in the DG post would’ve been magnified had it been expressed on Twitter not as a link to a long blog, but simply as a tweet or two.

It’ll probably happen again. Here I speak from personal experience. I’ve posted things via social media before that I now regret and repent of. Sadly, I’m sure I’ll do so again. So these thoughts are just as much a reminder to me as they are a plea to an older brother.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

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