Antisocial Media: Why We Are Angry on the Internet


Angry man, weak manI’ve been using the Internet since it was the old DARPANET, having sent my first email in fall 1981. Though I obviously use the medium, I am not  a fan.

Over the years, I’ve seen the conversation on the Internet turn more shrill and caustic. It especially bothers me when Christians add to the acid. Something about the Internet can bring out the worst in us, particularly when it comes to things interpersonal.

A couple weeks ago, I had lunch with Rick Ianniello, a fellow Christian and Cincinnati-area blogger, and we started to touch on the phenomenon of being angry on the Internet. In keeping with the gist of that talk, I’ve ruminated on that face-to-face conversation and want to share a few thoughts.

In fact, I’m going to jump right in and post my basic points:

People still desire interaction with others.

The inflammatory draws us because it provides points for interaction.

In a world of wrong, something in us needs to be seen as being a defender of what is right.

“An eye for an eye” is embedded in our sense of rightness.

Because Internet communication is so instant, its fleeting nature demands we respond instantly or else face exclusion from interaction.

People  still desire interaction with others.

And thus completes the cycle.

I believe that this cycle explains much about our conversation through social media on the Internet and the way we interact with others through this faceless medium.


Without a doubt, I spend far less time in face-to-face conversation with others. The excuse I hear is that people are so busy. I find it odd, though, that the vacuum that is the average day is increasingly filled with electronic communication, often hours of it. When someone posts an unusual (and often inflammatory) bit of info on the Internet, time was spent finding and reading that info. Add enough of that together and hours go by.

In a way, we suffer from a collective forgetful delusion: We no longer recall how we spent our time before the digital came to rule us. How did we interact before Facebook? How did we communicate before texting? How did we accumulate knowledge before Google? Instead of what we once did, which seemed to make us happy, we have substituted something else, and few of us are asking if we’ve made the right trade.

I used to spend a great deal of time talking with friends over a good meal. Now that almost never occurs.

But we humans still crave connectedness with others, so we post on Facebook or comment on blogs. It used to be long emails, but email is passé and Twitter taught us to condense everything into 140 characters. So we do.

And the way to generate conversation on the Internet is to post links to weird, interesting, or inflammatory statements we, or those who inform our worldview, make. Like the matador waving a red cape, we want the bull to notice us—except in this case, the bull is another person from whom we seek interaction.

We’re suckers for the red cape, aren’t we? It’s something in us. Both in waving it and reacting to it we reaffirm that we have significance at a time when so much of life seems pointless, redundant, and stupid.

“See? The bull charged. I still matter.”

We all want to matter. In the United States especially, inconsequence is a mortal sin. There’s always a cause to defend, an opinion to be had. Our democracy is built on the ideas of people who could not sit idly by without letting their thoughts be known. Something always has to be said. The Internet brings that ability to say anything about everything like no other medium in history. It is the public square on a globe-spanning level. Under that magnifying glass, every statement becomes inflammatory to someone.

So we react with what we’ve been taught from the Old Testament school of justice: an eye for an eye. If someone hits me verbally, I hit them back. I take their accusation and reverse it so that it hits them. Their strike is my counterstrike.

That sense of conversational revenge drives what passes for discourse nowadays. Few people ask whether it makes sense to lunge at the matador’s flung cape. They react with an animal’s mind and charge. That spear in their back demands a horn to the gut. And we witness all the gore played out in a public space.

Like a genuine bullfight, our reflexes must be lightning fast or else we get left out of the action. Who hasn’t come to an interesting Facebook post a couple hours afterward and found 25 comments and an already burned-out conversation? The matador and picadores went home. The flowers are already wilting in the ring. Too late.

The Internet waits for no man.

Impatience is the worst failing to pair with the inflammatory, and it’s here that we see the genesis of the anger that has come to dominate the Internet conversation and spill over into all other forms of discourse.

Before newspapers started to die because they are not fast enough to keep up with the lightning pace of information today, there was the letter to the editor. The op-ed section of the paper was our public arena for anger.

But the funny thing about a letter in those days was that it took time to write and mail. Plus, the conversation lagged by a few days. The inflammatory story of Tuesday became the slightly peeved letter to the editor of Friday. In the meantime, everyone had taken a few deep breaths and calmed down.

Whenever I was angry enough to write a seething letter, it’s funny how the seethe eased out of me as I wrote by hand. And more often than not, when I was truly livid, Jesus often said to me, “Why don’t you sit on this one for a day?” And I would. Ironic how many of those letters never got mailed. Something about a day passing made the anger of the moment seem like nothing more than an ill-thought, knee-jerk reaction.

Today, our online conversation demands the ill-thought, knee-jerk reaction. In fact, without that automatic, instant response, the Internet loses its raison d’être and no longer becomes the necessary touchpoint we have made it.

That said, for a lot of people, the Internet and social media are the only touchpoint with others they still possess. Yet what a sad trade this has been, as something precious has been lost in our rush to life online and too much coarseness has been gained.

People seem unhinged nowadays. Too many of us think we alone are the arbiters of all truth. Just witness the craziness in the aftermath of the death of Osama bin Laden, when people demanded to see his death pictures so they would believe. We’ve reached a point where only my seeing and my opinion define truth.

Christians need to take this all back and react differently. This is what we say we believe:

I am dust, a vapor that passes through today and is gone tomorrow.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, even me.

I am to esteem my neighbor better than myself.

I am to love my enemies and pray for those who hate me.

All the law and the prophets are summed up in loving God and loving my neighbor, for love is the pinnacle.

Truth is truth apart from what I think or say; it can stand on its own and will go on without me.

The wise listen much and speak little.

“An eye for an eye” has been replaced by incomprehensible mercy, even in the face of hatred.

No one is unredeemable until he or she draws that final breath, so I must trust God in His dealings with people, particularly foes.

God has been patient with me and my slow growth, so I must be patient with others.

Jesus did not break the bruised reed or snuff the smoldering wick, and neither should I.

God made us to depend on each other because each of us is differently gifted by Him.

If you and I forsake gathering together in person, we lose something invaluable.

I can spend hours unpacking those realities for you, but you are smart people. You know how they should apply to our discourse and how we interact with others.

Now if we would only believe those truths enough to practice them, think how the world—even the online one—would be different.

Speaking the Truth…in LOVE!


Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…
—Ephesians 4:15 ESV

It’s one thing to speak truth. Any dimestore prophet standing on a streetcorner in an urban jungle can speak truth. That deranged guy shoving his poetry—only $2.00—in your face as you walk down the sidewalk can spout truth. Speaking the truth in loveA club-tie-wearing teacher commanding the front of a pasty-white classroom in an exclusive private school in Chevy Chase, Maryland, can instill truth. That young Hispanic lieutenant who saw the military as his way out of the barrio can yell truth at his soldiers.

You, me, our children—any of us can spew, whisper, and scream truth.

But only Christians speak truth in love. Because we know Love.

Which is why there’s no excuse for Christians to speak unlovingly to anyone. We do not speak fear, because in love, there is no fear.

God ordains that love be the envelope that holds His treasured words when we speak truth to others. When we preach, our message is love and our delivery is, too.

And when we confront error, it is not in anger, but in love. We rebuke lovingly, humbly, and gently:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
—Galatians 6:1 ESV

Lest you too be tempted. Because we are dust.

The mature understand this. The immature rail and accuse, showing no love, no humility. No image of Christ, into whom we are to grow.

Paul again:

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
—Galatians 5:13-15 ESV

How easily we fall into biting and devouring. Even now ministries composed of misguided people gnash and consume in an attempt to one-up each other in their mastery of what they believe to be truth. And it brings disgrace upon the name of Christ. Because there is no love in it at all. One side may very well be correct in their understanding, while the other succumbs to mistaken notions. However, everyone is at fault when love gets trampled underfoot, because love is the ultimate expression of what it means to walk in Christian maturity:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
—2 Peter 1:3-8 ESV

The culmination of a God-pleasing lifestyle? Love. All those other godly traits serve as the bedrock upon which love rests.

I knew a man unlike any I’ve met. Gifts of the Spirit flowed out of him like water. But more than the power by which he ministered in Christ’s name, he loved. No person he encountered proved unworthy of his love. He gave love to everyone, no matter how small or important. And because his love flowed so readily into other people’s love-starved lives, when he spoke truth, people listened. He’d earned the right to be heard because he led with love. Even when he corrected others, they listened and obeyed because he’d already won their respect and admiration because he loved before all else.

When someone speaks hard-to-bear truth to you, would you rather they lead with love or lead with accusations?

I believe one of the most under-lived truths of the Scriptures today comes from an all too familiar Scripture:

And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
—Luke 6:31 ESV

When we must hear truth, how do we wish it delivered? If we say, “With love,” do we speak truth to others the same way? Or do we bludgeon sinners and opponents, only to expect they use kid gloves with us?

It feels miserable to be on the receiving end of a tirade, doesn’t it? Tongue-lashings hurt, but they’re simple to yell, aren’t they? Any loudmouth can shout truth in our faces.

But to deliver a message in love isn’t easy. It demands we actually care in tangible ways for the people we speak truth to. It costs us something. It asks for genuine relationship. It means reaching out as one human to another.

And the greater truth of speaking the truth in love is the only person fully qualified to speak truth to another person is the one who fulfills this Scripture:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.
—John 15:13 ESV

If we’re not prepared to die for the people we speak truth to, then we should let others less infatuated with their own lives speak it instead.

Humbling. Speaking the truth comes with a price. When we fail to love before we speak truth, we come under the condemnation of the Golden Rule. We have not loved, therefore we should not expect love in return:

For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
—Matthew 7:2 ESV

Angry accusations beget angry replies. Biting. Devouring. And our anger burns hotter.

Here is truth:

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
—1 John 4:19-21 ESV

Nothing we do in the name of Christ comes apart from Him. Without Him we can do nothing. So when we minister out of any spirit other than love, we minister out of the flesh. The words we then speak scorch like strange fire, not the sweet, life-giving warmth of the Spirit. We Christians cannot say we love God if we do not love our brothers and sisters. Loving them means speaking truth. And the only way to speak truth is in love.

It’s costly. It’s demanding. It takes work. It asks the Spirit to blast away our easy, fleshly responses. Yet it speaks life, the very Spirit of our Lord.



Death and life are in the power of the tongue….
—Proverbs 18:21a ESV

And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.
—James 3:6-9 ESV

At a healing service about ten years ago or so, I was called upon by my church to help with prayer. As a prayer team leader, I was charged with making sure we met the prayer needs of the church while directing the trained volunteers who would pray for others after our meetings. That role was an uplifting ministry that I cherished.

The healing service began and all of us were praying with folks who came up front. After a time, the crowd thinned and I found myself alone. Only then did a small man dressed in a suit entirely in white approach me. He was timid, and with an Eastern European lilt he could only say, "Please pray for me."

When I laid my hands on him, I knew immediately that this man did not covet my prayers for a nice day. Asking God to reveal the man's true need, I couldn't avoid a word that kept coming back to me again and again: Curse. CurseSo I prayed that the blood of Christ would sever the power of all curses on this man's life. The instant I spoke this out loud, he began screaming and fell to the ground.

Being a prayer team leader, I swiftly summoned several others to come over and continue praying with me over this man. We prayed for about ten minutes and I witnessed his countenance utterly change from terror to peace. If ever I needed a video camera to record that kind of profound release in a tormented soul, that moment called for it more than almost any other I've witnessed in my life.

Talking with this man afterwards, he told me that back in his native country his mother had crossed the local sorceress, who responded by placing the entire family under a curse. The man's mother, pregnant at the time, later died in childbirth. The girl that was born was left profoundly retarded as a result of problems in delivery. The man's brother soon afterwards went insane and was institutionalized—until the country's asylums were dismantled in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union. The man's father went blind a few years after his wife died and now rarely spoke.

In my years as a Christian, I've prayed for a lot of people, but there have always been times when people I've prayed for embellish their stories. However, as much as I was beginning to think that this little man standing in front of me now was perhaps adding to his tale, he silenced my doubts by leading me to the back of the church where his blind father, deranged brother, and mentally disabled sister sat as quietly as could be expected, the brother only occasionally muttering something unintelligible.

I was shocked.

I was also called away for another prayer need. Telling the man I wanted to talk with him more, I went back up front, prayed for the new need that had arisen, then immediately walked back to that broken family, discovering they had left quietly in the sanctuary's semi-darkness, only one of them finding release.

Too much "Evil Eye" for you? Not the kind of thing you've ever encountered? Well let me share a more personal story.

I got a call from a friend one night who was truly suffering. He'd come to the decision that he could not be a Christian any longer, and as we talked he confessed that the reason he was abandoning the faith was me.

No Christian ever wants to be the stumbling block for another person's faith, and I was taken aback by the comment, searching through every conversation, every encounter I'd had with this friend for as long as we'd known each other. Nothing I'd said or done to him was coming back to me.

Then my friend confessed that the reason he'd come to this decision was from noting all the rotten things that had happened to me in the years since he'd known me. I won't go into that list here, but my friend recalled every item on that list in excruciating detail, some of which I had never told him, but he must have gotten from other sources. He summed up his comments by saying that he could not reconcile how a Christian like myself, who had given everything up to follow Christ, could possibly go on considering what I'd experienced. If "God" truly existed, what kind of god could he be if he treated his own servants so badly, returning faithfulness with pain? My friend also wondered if I was merely deluded for pressing on in faith with a smile on my face and hope still in my heart. It was for these reasons that he could no longer believe anything in the Christian faith was true. I was the example that proved his deduction.

We continued to talk for hours after. Only later did I learn that our conversation had probably saved his life. But what I didn't know was what was going on in spiritual places because of what he said to me one humid summer evening long ago.

I think it was just today that I came to grips with his pronouncement. In some of my darkest times, what he said to me that night haunted me, and only now do I recognize it for the curse that it was. Only now do I feel like the black power of that comment has been rendered inert in the light of Christ.

How many of us are laboring under a curse someone glibly tossed out a decade or more ago? What words carelessly spoken—or even spoken with intent—have pinned us to the ground or left us flailing?

Many of you reading this are not charismatics; I understand that. But this isn't pew-jumping, bark-like-a-dog charismania, folks. Curses are a dark demonic oppression that gets called into use to destroy, undermine, hamper, and diminish the work of God in our lives. If we do not take curses before Him and let His Strong Right Hand shatter them, they can persist and wreak havoc.

Ask God today to expose curses that have been pronounced over you in your life. Some of you may have had parents that said things to you that have bound you in chains for years. Get those before God. Or you may have said things with a fire on your tongue that has burned people so fiercely that they can't get over it. Pray that out and let God show you who you need to approach in forgiveness. Too many of us speak carelessly and unleash things that can damage many.

Life and Death are in the power of the tongue. Therefore, speak life and not death. Our witness for the Lord depends on it.