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A month ago Blizzard (a video game developer) announced they were going to require users of their online forums to use their real names with a hope to reduce trolling, flame wars, and other non productive comments. This was a bold move by Blizzard which shows the severity of their problem. Immediately, many users complained, and Blizzard ended up cancelling this requirement.

Blizzard’s problem is common across the web, people can be jerks online, especially Christians according to Jonathan Acuff in his article, “Why Christians are jerks online.” Acuff argues because of anonymity Christians are more daring in what they say online. He also says that Christians don’t want to struggle discussing deeper, more complex issues online so conversations stay at the superficial level discussing clothing, or the merits of a TV show.

Anonymity plagues the web since you don’t have to look someone in the eye or sit through the awkward pause after you say something shocking on the phone. I think Robin’s comment on his article says it well, “There's a measure of distance and protection online; it's like your laptop screen is a shield. You can dish out dirt then duck and cover and it's all good in the end. People can be braver online and say the things they think "out loud", while in real life they'll use better discretion.”

Things can happen quickly online, it’s faster to respond today and you can contribute at any time. This is a change from the past when you had to reach someone on the phone at home, or even further back you had to travel to their home to talk. This has caused a short circuit of the “should I say things out loud or not” impulse and instead many people just say their thoughts.

I’d wager that most of the flame wars, trolling, and heartless replies have actually always been thought, but just not said. Online forums, email, and chatting have uncovered a problem that has always been there but is now exposed because of anonymity and the speed of discussions online.

What’s your take on this? What wisdom do you have to help “love our neighbor as yourself”?


Motivated by the poor level of discourse on the Internet, I wrote up a 'Bill of Rights' for people who write on religious topics online.

To be fair, though, a big part of the problem is that in my experience, churches are not safe places for people to be vulnerable, share freely their doubts and frustrations, and work through their differences. There are so many taboo topics and taboo ways of expressing oneself, and so people feel stifled. We seem to be more concerned with appearances and status and politeness than we are with 'speaking the truth in love'. For this reason, feelings get bottled up in church, and come to expression on the Internet under the cover of anonymity. And many of the people speaking their mind are the people who felt repressed in our churches. So I think we owe it to people to be patient with the excesses of both Christian and non-Christian 'jerks' online, while still pushing everyone toward excellence and charity.

Think before you write Should I write this or not? is still a valid thought on-line as it was before when there was time to do it before you could answer. Now we have to be more deliberate.

Thanks for the great post, Dave. So far, the Network has had over 1,100 comments and, of those, only 2 have been pulled (both because the person disclosed too much personal information, not because they were mean).

Maybe the "My Church" feature helps as it encourages people to identify their congregational affiliation. Or that people know CRC bingo can get them identified in a jiffy.

Whatever the reason, it hasn't been much of an issue for The Network as for some other sites. I guess grace is not only preached, but practiced in the CRC. It's been nice to see.

My husband and I have been playing games and communicating on the internet before it was even cool (over 17 years). We are actually customers of Blizzard as we play one of their games and run a guild (a group of like-minded people working together in the game). We too have noticed that people seem to think that because no one knows who you really are its ok to do and say whatever they want. Our guild is a family guild that is Rated G, where kids are welcome and safe from the vulgarity in other parts of the game. When new members join quite a few of them (sadly a lot of the young teens) are shocked that we enforce a no swearing, flaming, or taking the Lord's name in vain policy. There is a certain 3 letter acronym om* that we do not allow and it blows their mind, even the Christian kids are confused why we don't allow it. The seem to think that acronyms aren't "really swearing" and so they are ok. As aguilla1 stated earlier, we teach our members to think before they type.
I was actually hoping Blizzard would follow thru with that threat as it might really clean up or at least inhibit some of the nastier things about the gaming world. As someone who plays an MMORPG (Massively multiplayer online role-playing game) I have witnessed a lot of that behavior. I admit that even I do act differently online than in real life. I hold true to my values as a Christian, but I am much more outgoing online. In real life I'm fairly shy and prefer not to lead things if I can avoid it. Online I am the Co-Founder of our guild and end up training people, leading events, and policing our chat and when necessary punishing people who rule break. I have had to counsel teenagers in our guild when they were having problems at home, a young girl who was considering killing herself, adult friends who's teens are out of control or who were considering divorce and we have even befriended a few veterans who try to escape their PTSD online. I joke around a lot more online and have an easy time making friends, not something I do easily in real life.
In the last couple years my leadership skills and online character has started seeping into my real life. My husband and I are going to be leading a new SMall Group this fall, I have many many more "real" friends now then I did before, and we are both involved in or leading committee's at church now. So while I do agree that there are some HUGE dangers to be had in the online world and the anonymity it provides, I think I can also hold myself and my husband up as examples of some of the benefits. Being anonymous allowed me to grow into a better leader and to gain self-confidence I never could have in the real world alone and luckily we have been able to translate these new found skills into our lives.
I think that if more Christians were to live their faith in their online interactions that we could use the web as yet another tool to bring people to Jesus and even someone who lives in a tiny town of 500 people (me) can reach out to people all over the globe!

I'm not an online gamer at all, but I do once in a rare while check out "comments" that appear with an article or blog.    I'm often "yucked out" by what I read....    OK, I'm on this side of 60 (yrs, not mph) but still.....   some things are just over the top no matter what age you are.    SO - I found this post by Angela to be a really helpful perspective.   There IS a way to engage on the web and not be stampeded by other peoples' behavior - I mean stampeded into being like them, or stampeded off the web.   Thanks so much for this! 


I find it rather interesting that the Acuff blog actually had more to do with judgementalism and theological bickering than "avatarism".  I fully expected it to be about Christians disregarding their beliefs altogether and becoming a online terrors.  Which happens regularly, in gaming or in communities.  Christians shurk off any "religious censorship" they would normally heed to and run amok because no one is the wiser.

The problem, in either situation, comes down to not being personal relationship.  It is easy to treat someone poorly when there is no personal give and take or, more importantly, love.  And this carries over into offline communication as well.  I'm sure many of us have known non-Christians who have been completely turned off by the faith because a Christian that they barely knew treated them with finger-wagging and condemnation rather than the love of Christ.  Which then puts up a wall for future interactions.

I've been involved in a number of internet communities in the last decade and I've always tried to approach it with authenticity of character and of faith.  Most of these communities have not been faith-based, but I've walked away from some great relationships and very positive experiences.  And, of course, I've had to put up with a number of jerks.

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