Friday, June 7, 2013

Reflections on Proverbs: Trolls and the Power of Words

Proverbs 12:6 describes a very modern situation that has bothered me for a long time.

The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood,
   but the mouth of the upright delivers men.

Internet anonymity protects the wicked who troll for opportunities to wound others with nasty words. These trolls stir up trouble for their own entertainment and take pleasure in the pain they cause. Perhaps they have been hurt and seek revenge on the world for their pain, or perhaps they are truly wicked and delight in hurting others.

I had to quit reading comments on YouTube videos and several news websites. Practically every thread is tainted with gratuitous venom.

But sometimes, these wicked words occur because people simply don't think about what they are doing. It seems fun at the time, innocent, harmless. I know a man--a father of boys, divorced, college educated, wealthy--who thought it was jolly fun to teach his girlfriend's 12-year-old daughter how to set up fake profiles on dating websites using photos stolen from Facebook. The girl's mother thought this was funny.

These two adults think teaching a child to lie, steal, and hurt others is harmless, and they brushed off the idea that their actions were wrong when another adult sought to correct them.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
   but a wise man listens to advice. Proverbs 12:15

The ease and convenience of generating words on the Internet have led people to lose appreciation for the power of words. We've all heard of the suicides sparked by Facebook bullying. Just because we can't see the face of victims of our online cruelty or carelessness doesn't make the pain we can inflict any less real. Words can wound, even when they just are typed onto a website. It's like shooting people with're not physically there, but the damage gets done anyway, with no risk to you and minimal inconvenience.

There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
   but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18

How can you bring healing with your words online? What do you do to encourage kindness, compassion, and mercy on the World Wide Web?

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