Words have consequences; words in cyberspace remain for a long time and can turn up in unusual and unexpected places, Harrison writes.
One of the greatest blessings that God gave to humankind was the ability to create. The Creator shared some of Godself in placing a spark in each of us that allows us to examine, mold and fashion our environment.
Those things that we create can be things of beauty or infamy. There is not that much difference between a tool to work the earth to cultivate flowers and food and a weapon to kill and destroy life.
I often hear critiques of the media, art and the Internet that blame them for the ills of society. Such criticism is misplaced. These are simply tools — perfected, advanced, digital — but still creations of humanity. The only life they have is the life we give them. Unfortunately, our first tendency is to use them for personal gain and selfish motives rather than for the advancement of a good society.
The present case in point is that of the Missouri mother who used a fraudulent MySpace account to emotionally assault and manipulate a 13-year-old girl in such a way that she committed suicide. A decision by a federal judge on July 2 seems to have pretty well ended any legal action against this woman. I won't bother to recount the details, but the bottom line is that through her careless cyberbullying, this woman's actions led to the death of a young girl.
My primary reason for commenting on this miscarriage of justice is to remind myself of the great power of words in a digital environment and the need for constraint in the way that we use them. I am a fan of Facebook. I try to avoid some of its excesses. I don't feel that I have to respond to every request from a friend to take a trivia quiz or join a group, and I limit my time on the site. I see it as a tool that can be used for profit or folly.
Most of all, I attempt to see my Facebook account as a tool for good. I use it keep in touch with friends, renew old acquaintances, share words of encouragement or ask questions that will advance a discussion. Most of the time, I avoid unloading my bad day on others, "flaming" those I might think at the moment are ignorant or misinformed, and critiquing those whose problems may be more intense than I can understand from a short posting. I always find it wise to reread what I am about to post to see if it might be misunderstood in some way. Most of the time this works.
Internet conversation is like any other conversation. If you are angry, upset and unsure of yourself, the means of communication you adopt reflects those attitudes. Words do have consequences, however, and words in cyberspace remain for a long time and can turn up in unusual and unexpected places.
If you honor others as fellow creatures of God, you will temper your speech or your writing. With apologies to Marshall McLuhan, it's not just the medium that's important – it's the messenger and the message.
Ircel Harrison is an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates and director of the Murfreesboro Center of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. A version of this column appeared previously on his blog.