Social Media Etiquette: Out of the Heart the Flamer Speaks

We are happy to be introducing a short series of blog posts from Bruce & Liz Roeder on the topic of social media etiquette.  This subject is becoming more and more important in our day to day lives, and I am thankful that Bruce has taken the time to expound on it.

Pastor Bruce is the associate pastor and oversees many key ministries at Missio Dei Fellowship related to discipleship and counseling. Bruce is a biblical counselor with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (formerly NANC). Bruce holds a Master’s Degree in biblical counseling from Master’s Divinity School and a B.A. in Communication\Management from Concordia University as well as an ABS from Moody Bible Institute. He has been married to Liz for 39 years!



Email came on the scene in the early 90’s as I recall. It was a big deal and it made communications easier as well as providing free competition to the US Post Office.

It didn’t take long before email was abused and misused, rapidly becoming just another technological tool corrupted by the human heart.

It didn’t take long for email etiquette rules to be developed to counter some of that corruption.

Some the rules included keeping in mind tone since tone of voice is hard to discern in written form or using common sense privacy settings. Much email etiquette was especially developed for a business environment and one of the most interesting rules was don’t neglect face-to-face contact for email.

One of the many reasons for “rules” was the email “flamer.”  A flamer could be defined as a hostile and insulting interaction between Internet users, often involving the use of profanity. A gossiper is also a flamer because of the slander involved.

When social media came on the scene so did “flamers”, sometimes called trolls because they intentionally try to flame others or otherwise be irritating or gossipy.

And it’s easy to do. It’s easy to sit behind a computer or smartphone and attack, accuse, ridicule, insult, tear down, or flame another. It doesn’t take any courage what-so-ever to be a flamer because you do not have to look at the person face-to-face.

As noted in my previous posts a Christian should avoid this kind of social media (and email) behavior because we are ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5a), so what we say (or write) reflects on Christ as well as our character as His disciples.

Nevertheless, we Christians get this wrong and seek to justify ourselves by saying things like:

I was only speaking truth. This is how he was a jerk.

He\she makes me angry.

I was telling my side of the story.

So-and-so is a liar.

She pushed my buttons.

So-and-so was cruel to me.

I was being honest and saying how I feel about how I was treated by so and so.

They started it. I was only defending myself.

And so on and so on. Frankly, there is no limit to the justifications for angry/flamer response type emails and social media posts.

What is not often recognized is that word problems reveal heart problems.

That sentence requires some explanation because in our culture a heart problem can mean an “emotional problem” and while emotions are certainly involved the heart, in Scripture it means much more.

The heart is the biblical word used to describe the inner person. The heart is the immaterial (non-flesh) part of a person that includes our thoughts, beliefs, desires, mind, feelings, intentions and emotions. It is often referred to as the control center of our being. Proverbs 27:19 explains:

As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man. (Proverbs 27:19 ESV)

Jesus put it like this:

And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23 ESV)

It means that our biggest problem is inside of us, not outside. What’s inside of us is revealed by our behaviors; behavior that includes how and what we communicate on social media and email.

Some flamers simply initiate a flame to see who bites and when someone bites it’s off to the races with flame/counter flame. The person on the initial receiving end is tempted to respond in kind but fails to realize that they too are speaking from the inside out.

In other words, the initial flame “did not make you angry” it was simply the occasion (or event) that drew out the anger that was already inside.

This is key to understand. While it is not acceptable for the Christian to write a flame in the first place; it’s equally unacceptable to respond in kind because, if you do, you reveal your own sinful heart.

Far better to ignore a fool than be one yourself. Here are some Proverbs that make the point:

Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge. (Proverbs 14:7 ESV)

Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. (Proverbs 26:4 ESV)

A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back. (Proverbs 29:11 ESV)

There are two things to consider when dealing with a flamer or gossiper:

  1. The flamer or gossiper is revealing their sinful heart.

       2. Do not respond to the flamer or gossiper in kind lest you reveal your own sinful heart.

I will have more on issues of the heart in communications in my next post.

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