I know some really great people on facebook- generally, these people are smart, well-informed, and fun to be around. However, it sometimes seems as though they turn off certain portions of their brains when it comes time to decide what to post/share/like/endorse and what to leave alone. It boggles my mind when I see an otherwise sane and pleasant human reposting conspiracy theories about "Russian infiltration" or "Obama buying guillotines to kill Christians." For all of us- for all our sakes, and the reputations of any groups we are and ever will be associated with, can we just take a big collective breath and trade paranoia and flippant acceptance for a bit o' good, old-fashioned research and consideration? All the silly memes and conspiracy theories and offensive jokes really don't contribute to our credibility or that of any groups with which we are associated. Here, I am offering a few simple guidelines for saving ourselves the embarrassment of erroneous or inappropriate postings:
1. Don't mindlessly repost ANYTHING. It doesn't matter how much you like or trust the person who shared it, or how plausible it sounds at first.
2. Read it. Read it all. Don't post, link, or like things you haven't actually read. It can end badly.
3. Is it extremely personal or sensitive? Privacy settings are not infallible, and people can circumvent them to pass intriguing info around. If your world would end if it were public knowledge, it's better not to post it, no matter the privacy settings.
4. Is it about someone else? If you are posting either 1. A photo or 2. Information about another person, you should get their permission first. Always. This is not optional.
5. Does it have to do with bodily fluids, your own or your children's? If so, then please limit the audience to those who you are sure would love to hear about that.
6. Is it someone else's intellectual property? If so, just put down the mouse or texting finger and walk away.
For news/science/fact posts:
1. Look at the source. Is it a major news network, respected national or global company, or directly from the subject of the news? If not, more research is needed.
2. Go to Snopes.com. Search related keywords. Snopes is not infallible, and sometimes they have inconclusive results, but they easily debunk the most egregious conspiracy theories so you don't have to.
3. Do a basic image search. If you are considering posting a blurb about killer coconuts from Antarctica, for example, google "coconuts" and click on "images." If you find the same image that is portrayed in your proposed article as a killer coconut from Antarctica, sitting blithely in an ordinary article about coconuts on the beaches of Indonesia, you might want to rethink posting about the Killer Coconuts. It's true that some posts use stock photos, but those will usually be non-specific and un-contextualized.
4. Google the basic premise of the article. Worried about an international crime ring posing as vacuum cleaner salesmen in order to scope out your house for carpet thievery? Google Vacuum Cleaner Salesmen. Look at the results. Do you see an alert from BBC or CNN, or do you see paranoid conspiracy sites which cite in the same breath the horrible dangers of Communist Vacuum Cleaners which take photos of your carpets and send them to Moscow (or whatever is the communist outpost du jour in all the conspiracy rags at the moment) and Space Bats that eat your pets and defecate poisonous radiation pellets into your ventilation system? If the latter sort of site is the only one reporting the news in question, you might want to rethink that post.
5. Does the post list any direct sources from which you can substantiate its conclusions? If not, it should be treated as an opinion piece, not a factual piece.
For opinion/theology/religious pieces/memes:
1. Look at the source. Is this a source you want to be affiliated with? Sometimes bad people write good things, but if you are conditionally endorsing only a part of the piece or if you generally disagree with the author but this post is the exception, you should specify that.
2. Are you posting this piece as irony/satire? If so, be kind and specify. Not everyone picks up on that sort of thing.
3. If you are posting from a trusted source, ask yourself- would I post this if it were from a very different source? Do I genuinely affirm this message or am I just parroting the work of a popular figure?
4. Is it rife with any of the following logical fallacies? (see link here) If so, beware- your credibility with your logical friends may plummet if you post it.
5. Is it a "if you love Jesus or hate cancer or love you mom please repost" sort of thing? As a matter of fact, is it any kind of plea to repost? If it is.... just don't. Refusing to embarrass yourself with a stilted meme will not endear you to terrorists or separate you from Jesus or people you love or earn you bad karma with the Cancer Fairy. I promise.
6. Is it sexist, racist, or homophobic? It can still be incredibly funny, but if it is any of those things, you'd do better to take a pass.
For Religious Folks Who Love their Scriptures (and on a slightly more serious note)
I'm a Christian. That fact is not exactly a secret. I believe that the Bible is inspired and authoritative, and should be my rule of faith and practice. Sometimes, when I'm talking with people, whether on facebook, via email, in person, etc, I reference scripture as a catalyst or justification for something. However, I am not telepathic. I wish that I were, because that would be simply awesome, but I am not. Therefore, I cannot throw out a great scripture passage without any explanation and expect people to understand why I used it and the point I was trying to make with it. Which brings me to:
1. Don't quote a scripture without telling your audience why you quoted it, what you think it says, and how it relates to the subject at hand, unless the literal text speaks directly to your subject so clearly that.... actually, not even then. Never. A few words of explanation will cost you little and foster exponentially better communication. For example: If I'm talking about.....and this is just a hypothetical..... why I left a previous church and someone comes back with "and every man did what was right in his own eyes," I would have no idea whether they were indulging in satire, disapproving of me, or disapproving of someone else. That could mean almost anything, depending on context. Which brings me to
2. Use something that's actually relevant when quoting scripture. Resist the temptation to use Ecc. 11:4 "He who observes the wind will not sow, And he who regards the clouds will not reap" as a justification for your not wanting your child to be a meteorologist, for example. It's also probably not a good idea to use the verse about God's spirit hovering over the waters when you're talking about helicopters. You get the idea.
3. Don't assume that everyone interprets scripture as you do. (one reason why elaboration is so, so necessary) Believe it or not, even within mainstream evangelical/protestant Christianity, there has never been a single, universal interpretation of every verse of the Bible. There are traditional ways to interpret things, but those have never really been entirely unchallenged. Try to remember that your interpretation is just that, and that people can be just as committed to the authority of scripture and to responsible hermeneutics as you are and still come up with a different interpretation. If you disagree with someone's interpretation, by all means tell them, giving sound historical and logical reasons for your take on things. You may still end up in sincere disagreement, but it's no reason why you can't be friends.
4. Don't use scripture to beat your friends over the head with wrongdoing unless you are really close, have a relationship that lends itself to mutual accountability, and are in private.
5. You can be a Christian without using scripture to back up everything you say on the internet. It is ok to argue a rational point. Since your faith should color everything you do, you are not doing it a disservice by occasionally leaving it out of unrelated arguments. Scripture is wonderful, but do you need to cite specific verses in a conversation about teething or immunizations or healthcare? Probably not.
I can't promise that following all of these guidelines will save you from any future internet embarrassment, but I can say that I've never seen a horrible post that couldn't have been avoided by following one or more of them.