Ouch! I’ve just survived a Facebook fight with a fellow Mormon. Can you help develop a Mormon netiquette code?

Dear AMG,

I’m your average “orthodox”, NPR-listening, college educated, straight-laced and very imperfect Mormon housewife. My personal politics fall somewhere in the middle, but I’m always happy to listen to well-thought out, respectful arguments from any viewpoints. I occasionally get wrapped up in “facebook fights” with other Mormons over political issues. I usually only get involved when I feel a side is being grossly underrepresented or people are being rude. Still, even on fairly basic topics, I’ve found myself getting accused of picking and choosing my doctrines and sometimes I get told that “even the elect can be deceived.” I’m a pretty sensitive and very straight-laced kind of person, so that really hurts.

I know these incredibly vocal people are probably a minority, and that I am a worthy, good person. But, I felt, and still feel, really discouraged by the conversation. On some issues, it seems impossible for Mormons to have civil discourse because we are so caught up in jargon and not in truth. So, I was wondering if you could help write a list of rules or “netiquette” for Mormons who want to participate in political discussions online. My first rule would be “don’t use language also found in the Temple to make an argument that a political idea is unsound.” Can you help develop others?

Sincerely,

CM

Dear, dear, dear CM:

Thank you so much for having the courage to ask the million-dollar question of the digital era: “What would on-line conversations among Mormons sound like if we actually believed our every day speech and writing habits were the building blocks of Zion?” The question of civility is so big and important that the folks at Headquarters made this lovely video encouraging us all to engage in a “Civility Experiment.” Perhaps we all might remind ourselves to take a deep breath and roll the video next time the brickbats start flying on-line.

But to your point, CM, I think it is a wonderful idea to develop a code of Mormon “netiquette.” And in the spirit of the digital era, my suggestion is that we crowdsource this project to the readers of AMG. I bet if we put our heads together, we can come up with a gorgeous list of guidelines for civil discourse, and I will gladly, gladly perma-post them at AMG and strive to live them every day.

Now, before we get down to business, two short anecdotes to give us all a shot of courage. First: last week, I was talking to a (non-Mormon) reporter from the Boston Globe. She confessed she was a fan of the column. “I’ve found civil conduct on-line,” she exultantly told her roomies, “and it’s among the Mormons! It’s at Ask Mormon Girl!” And I have to say I am proud of my readers and the kindness we generally dole out to one another. So, if anyone can develop a Mormon code of netiquette, I believe, dear readers, that it’s you.

Second: let me tell you about my Twitter buddy @MulletPatrol. He lives in Lehi, Utah, has four kids, runs triathlons, and leans way right. The hype would tell you that a conservative guy like @MulletPatrol and a self-identified feminist lefty college professor like @askmormongirl would positively repel each other, but let me tell you, we have a terrific time on Twitter, @MulletPatrol and me. Last Sunday, I was sitting in the Tabernacle waiting for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to begin its weekly installment of Music and the Spoken Word. I was seated up in the rear balcony with some new Mormon friends—several of them handsome gay men. It was springtime, the flowers were beautiful on Temple Square, the MoTab was warming up with “How Firm a Foundation,” and all felt right with the world. So I joyfully tweeted, “Mo Tab with my LGBT Mormon homies. Good morning!” And moments later, @MulletPatrol tweets back, “@askmormongirl will you get down with motab and the Mormon tea party homies?” And because I really do like @MulletPatrol and because I believe my Zion-loving Mormon heart has got to be big enough for everybody—from the LGBT folks to the Tea Party folks–I tweeted a giant “@MulletPatrol heck yeah!” And @MulletPatrol tweeted right back, “Party on, Sister Brooks!” And right there in that ephemeral moment, I felt that @MulletPatrol and me had claimed a bit of virtual real estate for Zion. And, wow, did it feel good.

Sisters and brothers, there can be no doubt that the habits of thought and speech we cultivate in this lifetime will stay with us in the next. And if we practice withering judgment and caustic rhetoric every day—even (especially!) with strangers on-line– how foolish are we to think we can simply shed these spiritual habits with this mortal coil. So let’s take CM’s challenge and engage in a civility experiment of our own: right here, right now! What Mo-netiquette guidelines would you recommend?

Follow askmormongirl on Twitter or send your query to askmormongirl@gmail.com.

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17 Comments

Filed under Friendship, internet, social connectedness

17 responses to “Ouch! I’ve just survived a Facebook fight with a fellow Mormon. Can you help develop a Mormon netiquette code?

  1. BBKing77

    Never confuse the person with their argument. This causes personal attacks that usually have nothing to do with the issue, and always do more harm than good to the point you’re trying to make.

  2. Ryan

    I selected some important things out of Wikipedia’s code of conduct:

    Assume good faith
    Argue facts, not personalities.
    Recognize your own biases, and keep them in check.
    Help mediate disagreements between others.
    The [Mormon] world is a big place, with different cultures and conventions.

  3. JA de Mexico

    Before expressing strong disagreement (and often strong emotions), ALWAYS take a line or two or four to express respect for the other person’s point of view and their willingness/bravery/honesty in sharing it.

    • I agree with this- just today I was conversing with a guy in my ward via facebook. We disagree on EVERYTHING political, and I think some hard feelings were on the horizon. I pm-ed him and told him that politics aside, I really respect his knowledge base and where his opinions come from. It truly seemed to open up communication and discussion rather than egg on a dispute.

  4. Dan

    All good comments so far. I would add that everyone’s journey is different and everyone is at a different place politically, emotionally and spiritually. I believe tolerence comes at that point when we acknowledge this in people and show respect and non-judgment for where they are in their journey.

  5. Tracey

    One rule and then one underlying principle:

    Rule:
    Stay Curious

    Underlying principle:
    I’m quoting former Oregon Senator Gordon Smith who spoke in a fireside in my stake. His opening words: “I am persuaded that God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican.”

  6. Jake

    I think the example of Pahoran in his correspondence with Moroni is an excellent case. Moroni loses his temper, gets accusatory, and really rips into all of the political leadership. Pahoran makes the conscience choice to not get angry BUT he doesn’t excuse Moroni for his misrepresentations and grossly inaccurate assumptions. The very first thing P does is correct the Captain.

    Outside of the Title of Liberty, Moroni seems to be a pretty horrible writer, to be honest. It’s interesting that even a guy with what seem to be intense anger issues is still addressed in such laudatory language by Alma the Younger (unless it’s the later Moroni or Mormon’s editorializing). Gives me hope for myself and the Mo-trolls out there.

  7. Don’t say something online in a virtual space that you would not say to someone if they were sitting in front of you in real life, with your children present.

    Sometimes the anonymity factor online lowers our speech standards. We might feel too comfortable saying it anonymously when we know they can’t actually get up from their chair and punch us in the face ;-)

  8. I know a lot of Mormons, how do you think I came up with it? NetworkEtiquette.net

  9. Seeing as in the past four years, I’ve gone from TBM to ex-Mormon, I’ve seen my share of fights, discussions and debates.

    First of all, I NEVER, EVER personally insult them. Never attack the person, stick to the ideas, doctrines, policies, etc., but never attack the person. This will make it worse if you do that.

    Second, back up your sources from whatever means possible. Links are the best, but if it is from a book, then cite the book or wherever you got it from.

    Third, with Mormons especially, quote directly from doctrine and sources they are familiar with.

    Fourth, don’t stress out too much. If they are being an a**hole, then that is their problem not yours.

  10. I love this idea of no fences and creating a virtual real estate for Zion. So far, I’ve been pretty successful and navigating these challenging conversations online with the skin still intact on my nose.

    Two suggestions: 1. Know when your best, most thoughtful comments are hitting a brick wall, and have the maturity to simply walk away. 2. Give people (in my case the uber-conservative) the freedom and space to maintain beliefs you don’t agree with and use that to recognize that even you still have blind spots on tolerance and understanding.

    • Leslie

      Laurie, It was very good for me to read your #2 suggestion. Internally I could cut the uber-conservative a bit of slack, especially the ones that I may judge to be smug, condescending or judgmental. Even as I write I see my own blind spots on tolerance and understanding!

  11. Wow! I have hit it big! A mention from @askmormongirl

  12. Love your enemies.

    Really.

    If you can’t imagine thinking yourself what the other person has said, you haven’t understood what the other person is trying to say.

  13. I have 5 don’ts and 5 dos.

    Don’t…

    1) Pronounce judgment upon people’s heads, because that’s God’s job.
    2) Exult in others’ error (no matter how much in error you “know” them to be).
    3) Distort, oversimplify, or mischaracterize another person’s perspective, even (especially?) if it’s foreign or nuanced.
    4) Condition your love and acceptance on their agreement with you (even if they condition THEIRS on your agreement with them).
    5) Use inflammatory language that you know will offend, because that’s just mean.

    Do…

    1) Give everyone the benefit of the doubt by assuming pure motives, even if their execution is “off.”
    2) Understand, acknowledge, and empathize BEFORE you disagree.
    3) LISTEN to the feedback you receive; you might learn something.
    4) Find common ground — it is almost always there if you’re careful to look for it.
    5) Disagree with kindness and respect.

  14. warfsonofmog

    I’m sorry. I will do better.

    (No, really… I will.)

  15. Tricia

    I learned the following from a woman who had studied Sufism and then revised a bit. Always ask yourself four questions before speaking about any matter: 1. Is what you want to say true?. 2. If true, does it need to be said? 3. If true and needs to be said, does it need to be said by me? 4. If all of the above are yes answers, can I say it respectfully and compassionately? Don’t always use them but when I do they work wonders. Funny to be inside my head sometimes when I’m trying to negotiate a “yes” answer to a question cuz I so want to say something, but it’s not passing thru the 4 questions and I have to let it go. Darn! And Phew!!

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