The famous nineteenth-century novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tells the story of Dr. Jekyll who would transform into the evil Mr. Hyde. Even though the novel was an early foray into science fiction, the book captures an aspect of sin-fallen condition. People carry sinful tendencies within them—one moment they might act in kindness and another they might act in cruelty. One of the places where I see this regularly transpire is on the internet. I’m not sure what it is about the world wide web and the intoxicating power of its influence, but you can meet the nicest people who are kind and generous in person but once you put them behind a keyboard they morph into a different person. They shed their kind-hearted ways and don the persona of a mean-spirited, sarcastic, bully. Why is this the case?

I think part of the reason behind these transformations is that the web gives you the impression of isolation and anonymity. You look at a bright screen and a keyboard and don’t have to look a person in the eye when you say things to them. Behind the keyboard you gain a sense of courage and empowerment and so you type, point, click, and send. Before you know it your words rocket into the internet and seemingly disappear to no ill effect. The problem is, we are responsible for our words in every context, whether we say them in person or put them on social media. I once heard someone define integrity as being the same person in public and private. In this vein, the fruit of the Spirit should mark our conduct in private or public, in person or on the world wide web.

So, what can you do to ensure that you’re consistent and godly in your on-line conduct? I think there are two things to consider. First, whenever you put something on the internet ask yourself, “Would I say this to someone in person?” Or, similar versions of this question are, “Would I say this to my pastor or grandmother?” Just because a person isn’t in front of you doesn’t mean they won’t hear or see your words. Likewise, would you speak unkindly to respected people in your life, like your pastor, or to the gentlest people in your life, like your grandmother? Asking these types of questions will hopefully give you pause before you post comments or send an e-mail so that you consider matters of content and tone.

Second, perhaps consider not posting negative comments or messages on the internet. I know that for some people this might be like asking someone to quit smoking cold turkey, but it’s an important thing to ponder. All you have to do is peruse the comments section of a blog, news article, or the like, and personally witness how nasty the exchanges can be. Why would you want to enter such context and contribute to it? Even if you have the best of intentions of keeping clean, when you step into a mud puddle you’re bound to get yourself and those around you muddy.

In the end, whatever methods you choose to employ to guard your tongue, remember the words of James: “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire” (3:5)! So whether in person or on-line, ensure that you reflect the grace of Christ’s gospel in all of your conduct—in thought, word, and deed.