Think Before You Tweet

Words are powerful. So it matters what you say on social media and in the rest of life.

Peter Baker | 08:25, Saturday 31st March 

If ever there was a statement which can have exactly the opposite effect of its intention, "Don’t panic" has to be it. 

Ask Captain Mainwaring of Dad’s Army or more topically, Francis Maude of the Cabinet Office. His casual remark on a radio programme, advising drivers to fill up their jerry cans as well as their cars in case of a fuel strike, has caused chaos at the petrol pumps. 

And if that half-baked comment wasn’t enough, the Government also tried to reassure pasty-makers after the Budget proposed charging VAT on all such hot-food take aways!

It’s been one of those weeks where the power of ill-considered words has captured the headlines, over pasties and petrol, and also matters of much greater moral significance.

I’m thinking in particular of the jail sentence given to the Swansea University student Liam Stacey for his tasteless racist tweets about the heart-attack of footballer Fabrice Muamba; and then the resignation of the Tory co-treasurer Peter Cruddas, for his off-the-record comments to supposed business leaders, offering them access to the ear of government in exchange for large cash donations.

Perhaps we don’t need such dramatic examples to remind us that every word counts. But in a world of text messages, emails and social network posts, pehaps we do. Instant communication often reduces our ability and space to think carefully before we speak or write.

It has to do with the integrity of language. It’s truthfulness and sensitivity. It has to do with taking control of our tongue

We live in a culture of increasing surveillance and public access to private information. This gives the words of Jesus a haunting and contemporary relevance: "Everything that is secret will be brought out into the open. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight. What you have said to someone behind closed doors will be shouted from the rooftops."  Such a warning means more than, "Think before you tweet”.

It has to do with the integrity of language. It’s truthfulness and sensitivity. It has to do with taking control of our tongue, recognising how damaging the thoughtless comment in work can be to morale; how undermining is relentless criticism in a relationship; how corrosive of trust is deceit.  

Words matter. They are a basic currency of life. They can heal or wound, produce calm or panic. Careless talk costs lives. So with the psalmist we might well pray - may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight O God.   

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