I don’t care what you think or believe. Honestly, it makes no difference in my life what calls to you. And what calls to me makes no difference in your life, either. If you choose to read my blather, that’s fine, but by no means is either of us accountable to the other for words preserved in some electronic medium. We are each accountable to God alone.
If you want to add an element of friendship and fellowship, then we have to agree to certain terms of relative accountability, in order to have a functional measure of trust. We agree to have a working fellowship by which we both share certain moral resources to advance the Kingdom of Heaven in our own lives. That sort of thing comes with boundaries; we agree to restrict our respective freedoms for the sake of getting things done together that can’t so easily and thoroughly be done individually.
We could talk all day about those boundaries. What kinds of rules should we expect each other to observe, so that there is nothing between us that hinders fellowship? There is one advantage of how the USA dominates the Internet, in that most people online are aware of the common social expectations of the Anglo-American culture. It’s written into the traffic pattern of the Net.
But the whole point is increasing our faith, not preserving the temporal human culture. So we would have a different set of boundaries for a uniquely Christian fellowship. That the medium is online has some effect on this, of course. It’s not the same as fellowship face to face. Still, it carries certain assumptions that don’t always leak over into the Anglo-American Internet. There is some overlap, but it’s fundamentally a different orientation.
If we don’t discuss those boundaries, it leads inevitably to violations of our expectations. It’s highly improbable that you and I would have perfectly matching expectations. That’s how it is with unspoken assumptions when we didn’t grow up on the same physical household. But most of the time, we expose those expectations by how we write, and we make semi-conscious adjustments because they aren’t hard boundaries. We have an expectation about the way people who serve Christ handle those natural mismatches.
The problem comes when people inject their cultural expectations into their moral expectations, as if it were all equivalent. That’s when predators find ways to make trouble. Like wolves wearing sheep hides, they look for those with chinks in the boundaries that don’t mesh properly. There’s probably no way to say why this or that particular person preys on others. It may not matter. Since the whole purpose is building faith, we have to guard against their predation, regardless of what drives them.
When you are online, it is most certainly not the same as face to face. We tend to forget that. It can be somewhat like meeting in meat space, but there are missing elements. We have to keep those before us; it’s a basic necessity of the compartmentalization we are forced into by spending time online. If there is something between us that makes us accountable to each other, it works both ways, but it must match the medium. While it’s vaguely possible that I might become the kind of freak who stalks people online, nothing I’ve published on the Net would lead you to expect that, so your accountability to me is pretty thin. I state that often enough, I believe.
By the same token, my accountability to you is pretty thin. What I say about that goes both ways. You are only accountable as you want to be, and so am I.
From time to time you’ll have online encounters from people who, perhaps acting as a sly predator, will assume a level of accountability you don’t accept. That’s where the verbal manipulation comes into play. Don’t fall for that game. If you keep such things conscious in your mind, then you won’t just walk into some emotional trap that you somehow owe that other person something.
Further, you really need to start out that way. You need to structure your whole online presence and persona with the conscious assumption that you don’t owe anybody anything you don’t ask of them. Don’t create an atmosphere that allows someone to walk in a take over. Always keep the ban hammer strapped to your side.
And when you visit other sites, run/owned by someone else, you bring some of that with you. You have an obligation to the folks running the site, but not to any other random fool you encounter there. Be ready to remind them that you have a mission in mind for posting a comment there, and that your mission is not to satisfy their every demand. Aside from some measure of contextual honesty, you owe them nothing.
Stand your ground and don’t worry about their complaints. It’s just fine to ignore them.