My Culture/Technology/Teen Culture A Face Behind the Screen: A Guide to Internet Dialogue by Michelle Neitzke Have you ever seen someone approaching you from the distance but didn’t want to talk? Rather than make eye contact or have a simple conversation have you resorted to pulling out your phone just to avoid this dreaded interaction? It’s embarrassing to admit, but I have done this before. This is just one example, and I could give you countless more, but I think it is pretty obvious: our culture hides behind screens. Not only does our culture hide behind screens. We hide behind social media. Far too often I have seen rude, mean and snarky comments from people we least expect it from. “I thought little Sally was sweet and innocent, but wait the comment she posted about that topic was neither sweet or innocent, I had no idea little Sally had it in her!” Sometimes I am literally shocked when I see how people dialogue on social media. Our feelings and emotions get especially heated when there something controversial is going in our culture. There is nothing wrong with conviction, passion or having a strong opinion about a certain topic, but the way in which we present those opinions is important. It seems as though this should be obvious, but just in case: social media is not the place to rant, vent, or make rude and snarky comments about a particular issue. In fact, all of our communication and dialogue, whether it is on the public digital sphere, or face to face, should be rooted in love. Here are a few things to think about when having internet dialogue: There is a face behind the screen This is the number one rule! Whoever we are commenting to or whatever issue we are commenting about- those people have real faces, real names and real souls. Our comments should never objectify people or degrad them. Truth rooted in love So you disagree with someone on social media? If you chose to respond make sure who choose words that respect the dignity of the person or people you are talking to. Sarcasm, accusations, and rude comments do not have a place in dialogue. There is a way way to respectfully disagree with someone, which can only be done if we exercise love and respect to the other person. If you wouldn’t say it face to face, don’t type it Seriously! It is easy to hide behind a screen. But social media isn’t a scapegoat. If the conversation isn’t one you would have in real life, don’t do it on social media. Too often, we hide behind the screen as a means to vent. This rule helps avoid the scapegoat mentality as well as encourages us to have honest face to face dialogue (which in my opinion is the real platform for dialogue.) Think before you type When something controversial is going on in culture we of course will have strong feelings and opinions. The easiest thing to do is to run to social media to express those. I would challenge us to think and pray before we post on social media. Questions such as these are helpful to ask before we post: Are my comments charitable? Do I know enough about this subject yet? Does my post point to the truth of the situation? Is my tone in the comment positive or accusatory? Do I want to make such a strong declaration publicly about the matter at hand? Jesus’ disciples didn’t have to grapple with the question of how to dialogue on social media. Our culture is in a constant flux, and one of the roles of the Church is to learn how to dialogue in the various platforms that culture creates. For our culture, this is largely social media. I believe great dialogue can happen on social media, and that people can even be pointed to truth through these online conversations. But hearts won’t be led to truth if we don’t follow some guidelines. Real people read our comments, we must always keep a mentality of truth rooted in love in internet dialogue- there are faces behind the screen and owe them just as much respect, as we would give them if we were speaking person to person. I pray that we may all grow in the art of internet dialogue!