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How Harshly Should We Call Out Friends Who Might be Wrong on Social Media?

Something strange happened to me a few times over the last year, and some of you may have had similar experiences. Each time, after I posted something, a friend who strongly disagreed with it then criticized me pretty harshly on the post and did it online. After writing thousands of blog posts over the years as well as plenty of magazine articles, I’m used to criticism, so it wasn’t the actual criticism that bothered me at all. One of the reasons I write is to encourage discussion and differing viewpoints.

But what seemed strange to me was that a personal friend felt comfortable enough to call me out publicly and harshly – without first making a private phone call, direct message, or email to clarify my point. In each case, their comment was snarky, and in each case they misunderstood the post, but they still felt no compulsion to reach out privately for clarification first.

I understand the powerful pull to respond immediately on social media when we disagree, get angry, or offended. We’ve all felt it, and that pull is exactly one of the most negative aspects of social media. Because it’s so easy, you respond quickly when it would be far more thoughtful and appropriate to take a little time and reflect first.

But beyond that, I can only guess that the public nature of the response might have accomplished a few things for them:

1. Perhaps it was an attempt to make them look smart, moral, funny, mature – or whatever they wanted to sound like as they criticized my post. Looking back over a few years, most seemed to be trying to claim the moral high ground on an issue.

2. Perhaps even though they knew me, they didn’t want to actually discuss the subject with me personally, because that might take an investment of time in our friendship or potentially discovering other reasons for the post.

3. It’s easy to be mean behind the screen. That’s one of the great drawbacks of social media and mobile devices.

But whatever their motivations, I keep going back to that pesky scripture in Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”

Particularly as Christians (as the friends I described were), do we publicly “call out” personal friends on social media when we disagree with them? Do we give them the benefit of the doubt? Do we reach out privately? Is it so important to establish our moral superiority, brilliance, or sense of humor to our followers that it’s worth trying to embarrass someone we know and should care about? How much we disagree with the post isn’t the issue. The issue is how we’re responding to a friend.

Perhaps it’s one of those questions that we need to remind ourselves of more and more in today’s social media age…

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  1. The question becomes if someone has posted on a public platform on social media, does that not infer that the original poster has in fact opened up the subject for public discussion?

    If I am to talk about something controversial one and one with a friend then I would expect that friend to keep their comments and criticisms between us alone and I would have every right to be upset if my friend then berated me on Facebook, Twitter or whatever platform. However, if I post something on a public forum then I have made the choice to put what I think or believe out there, and as such should not be surprised that any response be it supportive or critical, from a friend or foe be directed back at me in the same public arena that I used to air my thoughts in the first place.

    That said I would like to hope that my friends would keep the discussion cordial, and stick to the subject at hand and not get into silly name calling or personal insults. However I have no reason to expect anyone to hold back on harsh rebuttals, especially if what I posted was controversial or based around very divisive issues.

    1. It may depend on your definition of the sentence: “That said I would like to hope that my friends would keep the discussion cordial, and stick to the subject at hand and not get into silly name calling or personal insults.” Being truthful doesn’t have to be harsh or snarky. We can speak truth – even to your closest friends – without being jerks. If you’re OK with personal friends being rude or jerky in response to your posts, then have at it. For me, I would never harshly or rudely call out a friend like that in public

  2. As a good friend once said to me, “If it makes you feel better, don’t press, “Post”!

    And maybe, as you suggested, keep Matthew 18:15 on a post-it stuck next to your monitor.

  3. It hurts. We should challenge ideas not the people who discuss them. I’ve let go of many ideas over years and how sad it would be if I lost friends in the process only to find that we could have eventually agreed on a matter

  4. I agree whole heartily with Martins response! Yes, no need for personal attacks or ad hominem attacks in response, but a public rebuke is just fine. I don’t buy this notion that my friend gets to broadcast his opinion to the world, but I must respond privately. That’s not the way this works….. that’s not the way any of this works.

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