The social media abuse of footballer James McClean is in the headlines and provoking my surmising. There are a number of surmises below the headline but the first is a simple one. Abusing and threatening people’s lives and families on social media platforms is wrong. It has to stop. No reasoning or debate. It is wrong.
New forms of communication have been shuddering the foundations of societies since the first picture was carved onto the wall of a cave, or a word could be written down, or the printing press was invented, or the radio, the telephone, television and the world wide web. At every stage there has been immediate suspicion, a time of coming to terms with and finally social behaviour patterns to deal with it all.
To the repetitive discussion about whether social media platforms should become more accountable my anger is an absolute yes. I believe though that that will take time to get right as the world re-knits after the shuddering.
I want to argue that there is something more at the core of society that needs to get up to speed. James McClean is not getting eyeballed in the street. His wife and children are not being confronted in school or the school gates. Why? It is not because the police are omnipresent. Even when our behaviour is not policed we behave in civil ways. There are even behaviours we call anti-social.
As the shuddering slows around this impact of social media we need all of us across society to step up and stamp civil behaviour in these new spaces. We need Church leaders, school leaders, community leaders and political leaders to step up on what has long been a serious issue. We need new behavioural patterns honed and modelled and delivered down.
That is why I am so impressed and delighted to see politicians like Arlene Foster, Steve Aiken and Gregory Campbell stepping in. Fair play to them. I am sure they are poppy fans. I am sure they would rather James McClean wore one BUT they stepped across the sectarian lines and showed strong leadership. Even The British Royal Legion spoke out. More of it and not just on issues of social media abuse.
Of course the churches need to step up too. Oh we know that we need to stand up or rather bow the knee in repentance for social behavioural misdemeanours down the centuries but wider society needs to come to terms with the fact that Judeo-Christianity has shaped our behavioural patterns for hundreds of years. We need to show leadership in this as every other issue and make prophetic contributions. The church needs to be on this. I fear that we are not aware of the urgency.