Diffusing Tensions on Social Media

Jesus tells us the second commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). In the digitally-connected 21st century world, this commandment extends to loving our brothers and sisters across the globe. Yet this command may be difficult to keep in our increasingly politicized and divided world. This is especially true on social media. While we can cater our social media to our interests and opinions by deciding who to friend, follow, or retweet, there is still a vulnerable place that’s more difficult to control: the comment section. As communicators and social media managers, this is the space that needs the most watchful eye. The comment section is the space where we see fellow Christians arguing, name-calling, and being downright mean. Social media is a double-edged sword that breeds anonymity—personal attacks feel less personal from those giving them and more personal to those receiving them. So how can you diffuse the tension on social media? Here are four tips that can help:

Be the example

Use your posts to convey the kind of comments you’d like to receive. Think about the content, memes, and images you’re sharing. What messages are they sending your followers? I recently saw an Instagram post from GloGraphics, a business coach and entrepreneur, about supportive comments. She says we need to match “intent with impact.” Especially now, when so much of our country is politically divided, think about how your words may come across on sensitive topics. Encourage questions and strive to educate your followers on essential issues. Leading by example will help create a space where all of your followers feel welcome.

Create consistent messaging

Occasionally, our ministries will receive comments from people who disagree with the content we’re sharing. We get comments like: “Why are you sharing this?” or “What does Christianity have to do with this?” We’ve created several responses that can easily be copied and pasted into a quick comment reply for questions like those. Typically, we’ll say: “Hi ____, thanks for your comment! You can read more about our ministry here: ” and link to our “About” page. This reply is a way of standing firm with our content while also politely acknowledging the poster’s concerns and giving background information. Consider creating several versions of messages to questions you often get asked. This can help with the comment section bullies, too. If you have someone trying to start an argument, you can paste a message such as: “We do not tolerate disrespectful comments on our page.” Keeping your messaging consistent will also help if other staff members access and monitor your social media platforms.

Use private messages

One of the techniques I utilize with frustrated posters is the private message feature. I often use this on Facebook, but you can also message on Instagram or Twitter (if that person is following your account). For example, I will see comments for one of our ministry pages that say: “This won’t accept my email address!” or “Why do you need my birthday to sign up?” I will take this opportunity to privately message the poster and either explain the answer to their question or offer my assistance. This approach works well because it creates a personal connection. Social media can feel impersonal and lonely, and this is a way to let your followers know that you care about them and their experience with your page. We’ll receive pleasant messages back from followers who are thankful for our help more often than not. One last tip: if you use private messages, make sure you answer promptly! The data on how quickly and how often you get back to people is publicly available on your page. Consider creating an automated response on your Facebook page.

Don’t be afraid to hide comments

Finally, if you’re getting spammed by internet trolls or people who are plain rude, don’t be afraid to hide comments on Facebook! The hide button gives you control over what does and does not appear on your comment threads. The comment poster will not be notified that their comment was hidden, and you don’t have to be anxious about others seeing and responding to it. Those comments are often from people who aren’t even followers of your page—they have seen the post through ads, boosts, or others sharing it and will likely not return to your page, anyways.

The key to diffusing tension on social media comes from scripture: “do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31) Treat others with respect and model behaviors and values that encourage positive posting from your followers.

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