Don’t Be a Troll

If I could boil this blog post down to a single sentence, it would be this: Don’t be a troll. I’m not talking about those cute little fellas with the crazy rainbow hair. I’m talking about the kind of troll who. . .

. . . sows discord on the Internet by starting quarrels or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal, on-topic discussion, often for the troll’s amusement. (Thanks, Wikipedia!)

Trolls, it seems, are here to stay, along with many other nasty side effects of living in a digital world. But we don’t have to be among them. In fact, this is one area where we have an opportunity to live as salt and light that believers in other eras did not.

While I understand the temptation to fire off an angry thought in response to a post we don’t agree with or to vent on our personal social media pages, I don’t think it’s fitting for God’s girls to be social media trolls. Here are two reasons why.

Reason #1: We should be builders, not destroyers.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear (Eph. 4:29).

It’s true this verse is about what comes out of our mouths, but haven’t our keyboards and phones become a mouthpiece of sorts? We use them to communicate how we feel and think just like we would if we were talking person to person. The standard Paul outlines here is intense.

We don’t say anything that corrupts (hurts others).

We do say words that build up (help others).

Paul is asking us to keep the listener in mind when we talk rather than just ourselves, the talker. (Or in some cases, typer.) Instead of asking, “Will this make me feel better?” before we speak, we pause and consider, “Will this build the person on the other side of these words up or tear them down?”

Reason #2: Every word counts.

Check out Matthew 12:36: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.”

Every. Careless. Word.

Gulp!

Clearly, our words matter a great deal to God. Why? Because the words that come out of our mouths reveal what’s really happening inside of our hearts (Luke 6:45). The truth of Scripture is that it’s impossible to say what we don’t mean. Our words work like a peephole into the true condition of our hearts. We won’t be held accountable for our words simply because words matter to God, but because hearts do.

God’s Word offers timeless truth for every generation. Researchers have started calling you iGen because your generation is uniquely marked by your constant use of social media. Since the Internet is such an important part of your daily lives, it’s worth taking some time to pause and consider how these truths apply to how we act online.

Five Checkpoints to Pass Through

To avoid careless words that do not build others up, consider the following questions. Think of these like checkpoints or gates that your words must go through before you hit send.

1. Is this helpful?

Does this comment help others understand you better? Does it help them understand God’s truth better? Always be on the hunt for ways to help not harm.

2. Is this winsome?

Winsome is an old-timey word I’d love to see infiltrate our modern vocabulary.

Here’s an official definition:

Generally pleasing and engaging often because of a childlike charm and innocence. (Thanks, Websters!)

I like to think of winsome as an attitude that may win others over. These attitudes are the opposite of winsome:

  • Combative
  • Argumentative
  • Hostile
  • Belligerent
  • Angry

If you can’t say what you want to in a way that is pleasing don’t say them yet. (Even if the hearer doesn’t agree with your words, your delivery can be calm and charming.) In every debate the goal is to win, right? When our words are presented in ways that are not winsome, everyone loses.

3. Is this worth fighting over?

Paul’s words found in 2 Timothy 2:23 could easily have been written just for us in the Internet age.

Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.

I have three little boys. As little boys tend to do, they often get into quarrels about things that don’t matter. When they do, we stop and say this verse together and then I ask this question:

“What’s more important the (NERF gun, stick, book, toy) or your brother?”

Their little heads drop as they say “my brother,” because they’ve been reminded that for a moment they lost sight of the fact that fellowship with their brother is much more important than whatever it was they were fighting over.

We need this reminder too, right?

What’s more important, speaking your mind or your Christian brother or sister?
What’s more important, being perceived as “right” or your Christian brother or sister?
What’s more important, defending your position or your Christian brother or sister?

Many of the things we bicker over are foolish controversies. It’s best if we can just walk (or click) away.

4. Does this honor the Imago Dei?

In Genesis 1:27, we read that all people are made in the image of God. Bible scholars call this the Imago Dei, and it’s a truth that really, really matters! Every person you encounter online is made in God’s image. Jesus thought that every person you encounter online was worth dying for.

That changes things. It means we don’t treat people (a.k.a. image bearers) as if our opinions matter more than they do. It means we care less about being right and more about human dignity. It means that God loves people so we should, too.

5. Does this communicate grace?

For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace (John 1:16).

Grace is undeserved favor. Through Jesus we have received grace on top of grace on top of grace. We don’t deserve His gifts. We don’t deserve His forgiveness. We don’t deserve His acceptance, yet He gives them to us by the dump truck load. That’s grace.

As Christians, we are agents of grace. Our job is to give grace upon grace away to others as a way celebrating what God has done for us.

If someone posts something that makes you angry, give grace.
If someone takes something you wrote the wrong way, give grace.
If someone is bashing your faith online, give grace.
If someone disagrees with you, give grace.

Grace upon grace, that’s our goal.

Life Beyond Likes

I’ll warn you, this approach likely won’t make you go viral. Controversy attracts attention, and graceful restraint often doesn’t. Let’s avoid being trolls anyway because the Internet needs some salt and light, doesn’t it? Someone has to step up and be kind. Why not us? Why not the readers of this blog? Why not today?

PS: If the wheels in your head and heart are turning about what you post online, consider checking out this post from our archives, “6 Questions to Ask Every Time You Post” and this post from ERLC.com, “4 Ways to Think Through Which Social Media Hills to Die On.”

About Author

Erin Davis

Erin is passionate about pointing young women toward God's Truth. She is the author of several books and a frequent speaker and blogger to women of all ages. Erin lives on a small farm in the midwest with her husband and kids. When she's not writing, you can find her herding goats, chickens, and children.

HEY, GIRLS! We love hearing from you, but feel limited in the ways we can help. For one thing, we’re not trained counselors. If you’re seeking counsel, we encourage you to talk to your pastor or a godly woman in your life as they’ll know more details and can provide you with ongoing accountability and help. Also, the following comments do not necessarily reflect the views of Revive Our Hearts. We reserve the right to remove comments which might be unhelpful, unsuitable, or inappropriate. We may edit or remove your comment if it:

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  • Aria

    Hello. I am currently a ten year old female and my parents are christans. I have three other siblings and go to church with them. Even though I may not be getting baptised yet, I want to start reading and studying the bible. I just don’t know where to start. Especially since most of the kids at my school are nonreligious and it can be tempting at times to be like them. I don’t really know the right way hoe to handle crushes and friends. Especially since my friends seek me for advice. I feel like I cannot talk to my mom and dad about it, because I’m nervous. I keep everything inside myself and one day its all going to pop. I really need advice. Thank you.

    • Thank you for reaching out to us, Aria! I’m so thankful you want to start reading and studying the Bible. I would encourage you to start in the book of John where you will meet Jesus Christ face to face and grow to love Him more than you do now.

      I also encourage you to not believe the lie that “I can’t talk to my parents”. That is a lie straight from Satan. God has gifted you with parents who love Him and love you. God has given them to you to lead you through these crazy hard years ahead of you. They have walked in your shoes and want to have an open relationship with you so that you know you can come to them with any question or problem you might have. Would you pray about this and then reach out to your mom soon? Ask her if she would go out for ice cream with you so you can talk about the questions you have in your heart and mind. Will you do that? I’m praying for you, sweet sister!!!

  • Hello!
    I have an interesting question. This year of high school I have a really intelligent and engaging teacher. She’s the best litterature teacher I’ve ever had and I respect her. She has very contrasting beliefs than I do though. She’s not a Christian, matter-of-factly she’s a pronounced atheist. When I first met her she told me that she struggled with lonelyness and read books to make her feel better. I don’t think anyone knows this. I really want to make a good impression for her and really show her Jesus’s love. Knowing that she feels lonely, is there anything special that I could do? I know that Jesus is the one who does the changing, and I know that changing takes time, but is there anything I can do with that information?

    Thanks,
    Ansley

    • Prayer is the place to start, Ansley! While you can influence and love your teacher, only God can change her heart. So commit to faithfully praying for her daily throughout this year. When she’s ill, send her a get well card. When she looks tired, let her know that you are thinking of her. But prayer is the key. Since she reads, she might also be interested in the journey of a former atheist as he sought to discredit and disprove the reality of Christ. You could gift her with a book by Josh McDowell like “Evidence Demands a Verdict”. Or Lee Strobel has several great books like “The Case for Christ” or “The Case for a Creator”. I’m praying for you right now, Ansley, asking God to show Himself through you as you share His love and reach out to your teacher this year.

  • Sam Sutherland

    I know I’m probably not the target audience and I’m probably reading-into this article a bit, but I would like to say something.

    I don’t think Erin understands this issue very well, if at all. The article has some good points but should probably be titled , “Don’t be a B___” because the author seems to be confounding trolling with b___ing.

    The author stretches her proof texts to an extent that would delegitimize quite a bit of the Bible itself. For example, Elijah trolled the prophets of Baal when he told them, ‘Maybe Baal’s not answering your prayers because he’s in the bathroom’. Was that #helpful ? Was that #winsome ?

    Also, some of us can’t help being trolls. It’s what we are naturally. For instance, some people would interpret what I’m writing RIGHT NOW as trolling. In my experience, if your thinking is significantly different from other peoples’, they will accuse you of trolling when you innocently express your opinion without realizing anyone could possibly be offended by it. They’ll call you a troll just because they disagree. Because of this, the word ‘troll’ is often devoid of meaning and is used to deflect from the real issues. It’s like calling someone a ‘Nazi’—it shuts down the conversation.

    We are surrounded by people who are impervious to logic, and even #winsome conversation does not get through to them. Constructive ridicule, irony, and trolling are perfectly legitimate forms of communication. Most of the time, these are the only forms of communication that work. If they’re not legitimate, then parts of the Bible, and pretty much all European literature, would have to be discarded.

    I pretty sure that if the word had existed in Bible Times, people would have called Jesus a troll. “Jesus, don’t be a troll!”

    Maybe I’m chimping out over nothing. Maybe I’m reading too much into this article, and maybe the author can be excused because of narrow experience, but Erin comes across as what C. S. Lewis called a ‘moral busybody’, someone who (with the approval of their own conscience) invents moral imperatives to enforce (in this instance) a surface facade of tranquillity and righteousness, trying to make it so no one ever has to feel bad about themselves.

    • Dorothyanne Marina

      If you look through some of her postings and responses to anyone who disagrees with her, you will see she is quite controlling – you are on to something for sure. She doesn’t stop for a moment to say “maybe there is some truth to what several of these people are saying about me.” Even if a number of people are saying the same thing, she won’t humbly reply with a statement she will perhaps “pray about it” or “maybe that is something I should consider. Instead, she threatens to remove their posts. So you are definitely onto an issue being with this particular author, Erin Davis.