Keyboard Courage: Practicing Kindness in the Digital Age

The phrase, “keyboard courage” is probably best defined as, “the act of saying nasty or hurtful things in social media that you wouldn’t normally say to someone’s face.”

Social media has done a lot of great things. It has helped us to get and stay connected with one another over vast distances in ways that previous generations could only imagine. When my brother was serving in Afghanistan we had the opportunity to stay connected to him through Facebook, and emails, and even more remarkably over Skype. We could talk to him face to face in real time even though he was half a world away.

But, social media has also had some dramatically negative effects. Yes, we are able to connect instantly with complete strangers over vast distances. But many times we choose to use Twitter, and Facebook, and other platforms not to build each other up or stay connected, but to tear others down. This negative use can have devastating consequences not just for the people targeted, but also for the person making the comment.

Probably the most well-known example is what happened to Justine Sacco in 2013. She was on her way to Africa and as she boarded the plane she posted this to Twitter, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” Her comments set off a fire-storm which resulted in her firing before her plane had even landed in its destination. For her story click Here.

We say things through our tablets and smartphones that we would never have the guts to say to a person face to face. We say them without thinking through the consequences of those words. Hence the term, “Keyboard Courage.”

Here are some things to keep in mind that I have found helpful. I did not come up with them, and have forgotten where I first ran across them, but the advice is solid.

  1. Listen carefully, and read and reread.
     In conversation I want to ask lots of questions to make sure I understand what the other person is saying. That is even more important online since the nonverbal cues we rely on are absent.
  1. Listen in particular for the motive.
    What has prompted the person’s questions and concerns? Even if you’re sure that the motive is obvious it’s always a good idea to ask the person before responding. The way I reply to mocking skepticism, though still respectful, is different from the way I reply to sincere questions.
  1. Disagree with ideas, not with a person.
     I try to refrain from impugning motives. I try to give credit where credit is due, noting every place of common belief.
  1. Be teachable.
     It is a conversation we are in, so we can only assume that we have things to learn that can deepen our faith.
  1. If you are going to quote the Bible, then use it as a guide to discern the truth of the person’s argument – and of your own, not as a club to win an argument.
    As a follower of Jesus, I believe the Bible is the means by which God has revealed Himself to us in Christ, and the means by which the Holy Spirit continues to guide us into all truth. I believe that it remains the authoritative, infallible guide in all matters of faith and practice. But I also know that many do not share that view and so I make it my goal that if I share a Bible passage I am doing it respectfully.

Here are two great proverbs to keep in mind when it comes to practicing kindness in this digital age.

“Careless words stab like a sword, but the words of wise people bring healing.”
– Proverbs 12:18

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”
– Proverbs 27:17



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