The first Twitterstorm

When was the first Twitterstorm? Anyone care to venture a guess? No cheating though, no using Google to search. A chocolate bar for the first correct entry (special conditions apply).

For those unfamiliar with the term, a Twitterstorm is “a sudden flurry of activity about a specific topic on Twitter.” Presumably, there are terms to describe similar trends on Facebook, Instagram and other social media.

A recent example of a social media storm is the online outrage that arose after Australian rugby player Israel Folau paraphrased 1Cor 6:9 on Instagram. He posted it as a warning that “Drunks, Homosexuals, Adulterers, Liars, Fornicators, Thieves, Atheists, Idolators” will face punishment in Hell if they don’t repent and turn to Jesus.

The fury from some quarters was predictable. Strangely though, I don’t recall that drunks, adulterers, liars and thieves were quite as outraged. They certainly didn’t storm social media in rage.

In the fallout, Folau lost his career, thanks in large part to social media pressure on Rugby Australia. He was also subject to abuse far more offensive than his original post and received death threats for his trouble.

That’s the problem with social media. What should have great social benefits is too often used for great social and personal harm. If it is just a cute puppy video on Youtube that goes viral, no harm is done, and plenty of people smile.

But when it is used to shout down different opinions and beliefs, it does great harm. Rather than reasoned argument, debate and discussion, the loudest voice wins.

And sadly, we’ve seen too much of that in recent years. Social media has helped change society’s attitudes so rapidly that the head spins trying to keep up. Social media has influenced elections. But most of power of social media comes by shouting the loudest.

So, when was the first Twitterstorm? The term itself arose around 2007, so presumably not too long before that.

But there was a Twitterstorm nearly 2,000 years ago. Acts 19:23-34 tells the story. The local silversmiths were concerned that Christianity was impacting their income from the Temple of Artemis.

So a protest sprang up. “…they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” the story tells us in verse 28. “… the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together” [verse 32]. Sounds like the beginning of a Twitterstorm, don’t you think?

Then, when Alexander wanted to speak reason to the crowd, “… they recognized that he was a Jew, and for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” [verses 32-33].

That’s the first Twitterstorm that I can find a record of. And it has all the hallmarks of a modern Twitterstorm; crowds jumping on the bandwagon even though they don’t know what it’s all about; crowds shouting down opposition rather than listening to the other person and weighing up their arguments and reasoning. The loudest voice wins.

Sadly, social media too often polarises people rather than bringing them together. This should not be. We should all use our God-given intelligence and discernment before retweeting or reposting a story. Christians especially – being people of truth – should be slow to jump on these bandwagons.

There are some questions we should ask before we repost or retweet:

  • Is it true?
  • Is it helpful?
  • Is it gracious and loving?
  • Will it promote discussion, reason, peace and harmony?
  • Will it represent Christ accurately?
  • Is it even Christian?

Brothers and sister, we really should be more thoughtful before we join the storm. If the answer to the questions above is ‘No’ – and it usually is – then better to get out of the storm.

Either that, or else respond with truth and correction. But if you do, brace yourself to be the new brunt of their fury.

The good news is that truth will eventually win out. The Twitterstorm in Ephesus didn’t last. And the Temple of Artemis no longer stands.

But the word of God still stands, and always will. The church still stands, even after 2,000 years of sustained opposition and persecution. “The gates of hell will not prevail” against the church or against God’s word.

And as long as we are anchored on the solid rock of Jesus Christ, and the word of truth (the Bible), we will be able to stand. And I suspect that we will need to be more solidly anchored than ever before in the coming months and years. But we are on the winning team.

As a final note, friends, there is a lot of nonsense, fake stories and scams on social media. There are plenty of resources available to check the truth of any claim on social media. Make use of them. Some of them are: snopes.com; TruthorFiction.com; factcheck.org/hot-topics

Two other resources I’d recommend:
Why We Should Escape Social Media (And Why We Don’t)
Free Ebook: 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You

(Competition not open to City Edge Church members. You already know the answer)

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