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Beyond “Netiquette”

By Rosie Perera | December 13, 2012 at 10:30 pm

I witnessed a very discouraging thread today on a forum frequented by Christians. It is a very active forum with almost 100,000 users and nearly half a million posts. The forum is meant for asking and answering questions about Bible software, and theological debates are forbidden by the forum guidelines. Sadly, with many people coming from vastly different theological positions, it is inevitable that things flare up from time to time. But in this case the hurt came from common online behavior that had nothing to do with faith.

A newbie user who had never posted before asked a simple question about how to find something in the software. She posted in all caps, as many newbie online users do. Another user posted right after her, ignoring the content of her question: “MIGHT I SUGGEST IN ALL HUMILITY AND AS A BROTHER IN CHRIST THAT YOU FIRST FIND THE CAPSLOCK KEY. all caps is hard on the eyes, and in internet culture is akin to yelling. I’m sure you weren’t yelling at us as your first post (intentionally). Any how, welcome!”

Needless to say, she did not feel welcomed, and a flurry of other posts from others added insult to injury, including the initial poster directing the newbie to to learn “how not to be rude on the internet.” She ended up signing off with: “This will be my last posting, I appreciate the people who truly have acted like CHRIST, and I am truly sorry if I have offended anyone. I do find it incredible, that all I asked for from a community of ‘Christians,’ was some advice and received such a negative response. My idea of Christianity is to be as courteous on the web, as you are in person. I teach a Bible Study and my group tonight were as shocked as I was earlier today. This is why I have never opened myself up to forums on the web, and I usually do not make the same mistake twice. JESUS said, “Do not cast your pearls before swine, lest they turn and rend you.” I expect maltreatment from the world, but not from a forum geared for ‘Christians.’ “

Perhaps the initial responder was really trying to be “helpful” in educating her to understand internet culture. But the way he expressed it was awful. YELLING RIGHT BACK AT HER. And the timing of it was even worse, like a slap in the face.

I think we need some remedial training in “etiquette among Christians online” which goes above and beyond the usual netiquette sorts of sites. Yes, it’s true that CAPS LOCK is a convention that means yelling, but the only time it’s ever referred to that way is by people chiding others who didn’t know that. Since all who are experienced Internet users can recognize a newbie making that mistake, perhaps we should just overlook it and not assume they are yelling. Telling them off for it is more offensive than someone actually intentionally yelling with ALL CAPS would be.

As Christians, we should be above calling people out for misunderstanding what everyone else who has been on the ‘net for years knows well. It isn’t a helpful habit and does not bond people together in Christian community. There could be a neutral place for general instruction about such matters as the caps lock convention, but certainly not as an immediate response to somebody just asking an innocent question.

It makes me weep that we as the body of Christ do not know how to love each other through the medium of technology. It probably carries over from not knowing how to love each other very well in person either, but technology brings its own unique challenges.

But to brighten my day that was otherwise sullied by that experience, someone else told me the title of the person who does their church’s website work. He’s the “web minister” as opposed to “webmaster” — I love that! One can never really “master” the web anyway; it tends to master us. But we can minister to others on it and through it. And let us all strive to learn how to minister to newbies, not by “educating” them in “netiquette” but by truly loving them as Christ would.

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