USA (MNN) – Open any social media platform, and you get an eyeful of ugly. Hate speech, fake news, social media trolling, political arguments, bullying, rudeness, and incivility—at times, it feels like the ‘Age of Innocence,’ an internet era of finding long-lost friends and sharing baby pictures, is long gone.
Is it your imagination? Not entirely. Between last week’s brouhaha involving President Donald Trump’s tweets and rally and France’s National Assembly taking Facebook to task, the issue of internet civility is raising concerns.
A Barna Group study released on July 16 reveals that 70% of U.S. adults believe hate speech and hate crimes have increased in the past five years. 22% say they have stayed the same, and just 3% believe it has declined. Barna’s researchers defined hate speech/crime as “speech or crimes that are motivated by racial, sexual or other prejudice.”
When asked about causes behind the perceived increase, two of the top four responses related to the internet and social media.
The breakdown is as follows:
• 65%-“Politicians are encouraging or feeding it”
• 62%-“Social media and the internet have amplified and encouraged it”
• 61%-“America is more divided as a country”
• 57%-“The internet has provided a forum for hate groups to multiply and grow”
Many parents, when presented with this information, struggle with how to protect their children while at the same time helping them learn to defend themselves. Keys For Kids’ executive director Greg Yoder says this is a timely discussion for families. First, he observes that people THINK hate speech is on the increase because there are more accusations of racism, homophobia, and bigotry. Many times it is merely a different political view.
However, he adds, “One thing that I think is increasing is hate speech against Christians. I think here the United States especially, we’re seeing more and more people who view our Judeo Christian ethic as being intolerant. I think, in their minds, I think that’s hateful.” That perspective doesn’t improve when Christians go on the defensive in a conversation and wind up sounding militant as a result. “They’re wanting to stand their ground. They’re saying Truth, but they’re not necessarily doing it in love, as Christ would have done.”
When asked how followers of Christ can be part of the solution, he responded, “What does Jesus say? ‘Love your enemies.’ We need to talk to our Christian kids about how to defend our beliefs and becoming more of apologists and asking questions, rather than flinging Christian insults at people or preaching at them or quoting a Bible verse out of context or something.”
Be part of the solution
Get familiar with what the Bible says, suggests Yoder, because that directs worldview. “The bottom line is that we’re pointing young people and families to Christ through His Word. And, frankly, that is the only way you’re going to build a foundation, ready to answer some of the world’s questions, especially in light of the hate that is present out there. God isn’t one of those gods of hate. He is a God of love…He’s a God of judgment, but He is (also) a God of love. And we need to tell people about that.”
Keys For Kids offers tools to help families develop the discipline of studying God’s Word together. They offer devotional booklets (print and electronic), audio programming (via internet radio and mp3 players), Keys For Camps devotionals, Unlocked (for teens) and the new Storyteller ministry.
These tools support parents as they teach their children about their faith, Yoder adds. “It’s pointing to real life, anecdotal situations, that tell kids about the Scripture that kind of goes behind that, and then how to apply it to your life.”
The point: to ignite a passion for Christ and a natural outgrowth of ‘what would Jesus Do?’ Then, confrontation has the potential to become an exchange of ideas and Truth rather than the polarization we see now. “Once you can apply biblical principles to your life, and then begin practicing them, that’s when you get grounded. And that’s when you realize there’s more to this faith than just reading a story and reading the Word. It’s actually practicing what you’re reading and understanding it that way, and then sharing it.”
Is it really that simple? Well, nothing is ‘simple’ when it comes to a world without hope. However, being part of the solution starts with one heart at a time.
Yoder concludes with this thought: “If you’re struggling– you don’t know what to say to people when they ask these tough questions–maybe you should start reading the Word and digging in. YouVersion has some great ways for you to begin digging into the Word.”
Headline photo courtesy William Iven on Unsplash.