10 Rules for Online Engagement

Yesterday I was privileged to take part in the Christian New Media Conference in London. I’ll write about the conference when I have had more time to digest what I learned. For now, I’ll just share with you part of my own contribution. I call it ‘Ten Rules’, but that is merely a nod in the direction of my monastic heritage. Like the ‘Ten Simple Rules for the Spiritual Life’ of Diadochus of Photice, these are merely guidelines, suggestions, for ensuring our online relationships are truly Christian. They make no claim to novelty: I am grateful to everyone who has helped define them.

Two points to remember as you read them. Before we go online, we need to ask ourselves why we are doing so and what our purpose is. A little reflection will show that the ‘friend’ model of online relationship I’m writing about is not suitable for every situation; and if you are wondering what the ‘friend’ model is based on, I can’t do better than quote St Aelred: ‘You and me, with Christ making a third.’

  1.  Pray. Bring Christ into the relationship at the very beginning, and let your prayer have more of the ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening’ than ‘Lord, open my lips that I may declare your praise . . .’
  2.  Listen. Engage with others, don’t preach at them. Know when to be quiet. It’s O.K. to have nothing to say!
  3.  Respect. Don’t abuse anyone or vent your anger online. It will scare off some people and make others feel uncomfortable in your presence.
  4.  Encourage. Give help when you can; affirm, compliment, if appropriate.
  5.  Spend time: you can’t build good relationships in just a few minutes. You have to be serious about wanting to build a relationship and prepared to commit yourself.
  6.  Share: not only what you are doing, but also what others are doing. This particularly applies to Twitter — don’t use it just for self-advertisement!
  7.  Be welcoming: you need people who disagree with you.
  8.  Be grateful: whingers are not very attractive, nor are those who take things for granted.
  9.  Be yourself: truthfulness is essential. ‘You’ online should be the same person as ‘you’ offline.
  10.  Love. Like prayer, it’s obvious, but unless you pray, unless you love those with whom you come into contact online, you’re wasting your time as well as theirs.

The digital revolution has created a new kind of eternity. What we do online is there for ever, so let’s make sure it is worthwhile and consistent with what we believe.


32 thoughts on “10 Rules for Online Engagement”

  1. This reads very well, and I am sure will be widely circulated to form a really useful ten commandments, both for newcomers to the world of social media (I wish I had had it front of me when I started) and as a salutary checklist and reminder for those who have become well ensconced.
    I was privileged to be in the room where you gave this talk at the Christian New Media conference. I began to write notes but found I would rather watch you speak and concentrate on being there: luckily for me, my guess that you might be persuaded to reproduce your points online was well-founded!
    It was a memorable moment for me seeing you in three dimensions (that will sound very odd to anyone not in this world, but I think people accustomed to social media will have experienced the same moment when a person whom you feel you know well from written exchanges suddenly moves from a two-dimensional construct to a living, flesh and blood person.)
    This is perhaps a good moment to record how very grateful I (we) are for what you write here and your online ministry, which offers a real glimpse of the Divine to so many people. Thank-you.

    • Thank you, Laura. I wished we could have had more time to talk as I could certainly learn from you! Congratulations again on your award, richly deserved; and if you don’t know Laura’s Layanglicana blog, do check it out.

  2. ‘Widely circulated’ and I suspect printed out, set on many desks and stuck into the front of diaries. Though not, I trust, set in stone. Thank you.

  3. The digital revolution has created a new kind of eternity… or maybe it helps us become more aware of the eternity we are already in 🙂
    Thank you. A very unique and helpful post.

  4. Thanks for this and the session yesterday. The session at #CNMAC11 was really good and so pleased I went to it. I felt it bought a lot of things mentioned elsewhere together about how to “live” online. At its core though none of these are very different to how we should be interacting with anyone be it online or offline as a general rule.

  5. Sorry not to have been there to hear you – it sounds like a good conference. This is a helpful list and, as Martin commented, not so very different from how Christians should be interacting offline.

  6. Thank you so much for this. I am so used to thinking of the web as ephemeral that it was good to be reminded that the words we share do indeed continue to speak for a long time. I guess Benedict’s words about the tongue should be taken to include the cursor!

    • Thank you, Richard (don’t think anyone has called me ‘absolutely lovely’ since I was six months old!). It’s interesting how tech becomes intrusive in a small gathering. Is it because eye contact and all that tends to be dissipated?

      P.S. I had no idea you are so tall! Another good reason for needing face-to-face engagement when one can.

  7. What a pity: I didn’t know about it until I happened to see you twitter on it. I would have loved to have gone but the cost of getting from Cornwall to London and back is prohibitive. I look forward to hearing your account. The netiquette is great but I would be a saint if I was able to fulfill all of them.

  8. Thank you for reading, Stephen. Phil, we missed you, but the cost of getting from Cornwall would have been enormous.

    This is an exceptionally busy week for me, so I’m not sure I’ll be able to do a proper post on the Conference, but I hope to put together some links to others’. I think the talks and presentations are being put online at some point, so we’ll all get a chance to benefit from those we couldn’t attend. I badly wanted to bilocate if not triplocate throughout.

  9. Thank you! A very sensible list.

    Can I ask how 9 (Be Yourself) fits with the others? To my mind, quite a few of the items on this list (like 2, 3, 4, 7, 8) deal with restraint and caution – not speaking your mind and saying what you think, but taking the time to compose an answer that is encouraging and polite. That’s very good advice, but it’s about creating the right “persona”, not about being strictly truthful. If we were all entirely honest all the time, the world would be a very rude place!

  10. Thank you, Tim, but I disagree (obviously!). It’s not about caution or restraint, it’s about focusing on the other person rather than oneself, which seems to me exactly what relationships offline as well as online need if they are to flourish. I don’t think I’ve ever had any difficulty in reconciling truthfulness with politeness. I don’t mean by that I’ve never been impolite (sadly) but I believe that God gave us the ability to be perfectly frank with one another without being deliberately nasty. It’s possible that we’ve hit the male/female difference here. Women tend to talk more to sort out differences; men sometimes take more direct action (womanspeak for a punch on the nose). What do you think?

    • Tim, I found this a really interesting comment and also the response from Digitalnun. For some long time I struggled with what I’d seen as a conflict between the advice we are given to express our feelings and the guidance that says be polite, restrained etc. I’ve experienced pitfalls on both sides – becoming a doormat or a raging harridan (both female images?) and have felt that neither route led to truthfulness.

      To my surprise, these days I’m finding that the conflict was of my own making. I do not have to speak in anger or envy to express my feelings. (I’m a fully flawed human being so sometimes I do). I do not have to repress feelings into the stiff upper lip British type, but experience myself as something more than my ever fluctuating emotions and express myself from that ‘something more’.

      I write ‘surprise’. I believe the change that has come about in me is a gift and a grace.

  11. I loved that very simple model of friendship right at the top, a perfect frame through which to read the list. How I would approach my communications differently if I remembered that loving third always watching, accepting, loving and wanting the very best from me.

    Thank you for sharing…I was sorry to have missed the talk but did watch it fly by in twitter form.

  12. Thank you, Beccabumps and Bosco. One thing I’m finding interesting in the discussion on FB is how clearly many divide on the subject of being oneself and yet ‘welcoming’ those who think differently. Another blog post in the making, I think.

  13. Many thanks indeed for your superb session at cnmac11, as well as my sincere apologies for wandering in a little too late for taking one of the front rows.

    After briefly chatting to one of the post-lunch presenters I thought “Where next Lord?” and found myself nearby and headed straight into your room! A Divine appointment?

    Your ideas were just right for pointing me out of private emails and into the public world of blogging – from current affairs from a Biblical perspective for believers and into helping not-yet believers get to know Jesus.

    I came away greatly encouraged and fired up. Again, thank you.

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