But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. (Jesus in Matthew 12)
Well it’s finally been admitted. Billionaire tech inventor Elon Musk, has come out and said that whatever you say about someone on Twitter doesn’t count cos you said it on Twitter.
In response to his sullen Twitter attack on a British diver who helped rescue the Thai soccer team trapped in a cave earlier this year, an attack which included questioning the man’s sexual predilection for minors, Musk now claims because it was said on social media it doesn’t count.
Musk tried to big note himself by offering a submarine for the rescue and was knocked back, with diver Vernon Unsworth telling him to stick to what he does best. Which, apparently for Musk, is coming up with increasingly arcane comments on social media.
And now Musk is being sued by Unsworth. For libel.
Here’s how The Times reports it:
In a tweet he has since deleted, Mr Musk responded by calling Mr Unsworth a “pedo guy”. His lawyers argue that “the public knew that Musk’s insults were not intended to be statements of fact”. They said he had been “shocked by Unsworth’s indefensible attacks” and “took to Twitter — a social networking website infamous for invective and hyperbole — to respond”.
But just to make sure that no one would assume he was only joking because it was on Twitter, Musk took to email, surely the best method of communication invented since actual face to face speech.
The Times goes on.
Mr Musk later sent an email to the news organisation Buzzfeed in which he wrote of Mr Unsworth: “He’s an old, single white guy from England who’s been travelling to or living in Thailand for 30 to 40 years, mostly Pattaya Beach, until moving to Chiang Rai for a child bride who was about 12 years old at the time.” He added: “I f***ing hope he sues me.” Mr Musk has said he designated the email “off the record” but Buzzfeed says that it never agreed to that condition. Mr Unsworth was 63 at the time. His partner is in her 40s.
Musk has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. His lawyers said the comments were “just imaginative attacks”, plainly exaggerated and delivered on Twitter, which is “infamous for invective and hyperbole”.
And infamous for shredding people, causing people huge amounts of anxiety, and – along with all forms of social media, a convenient platform for shaming, abusing, silencing and bullying. Simply meaning that it does the same thing as actual speech does: It can be used for good or ill.
What an injudicious statement in an era when young people have been known to commit suicide over what is said about them on social media. 47 year old Musk, tech guru that he is, is not a digital native. He doesn’t recognise that anyone growing up in this cultural moment makes no distinction between what is said face to face and what is said online.
Remember what James says:
With the tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, this should not be! Can both fresh water and bitter water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree grow olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
And we do it with all of the good technologies that God has gracious permitted us to create. Yet what would we expect? All sin is a perversion of the good. The tech and social media companies paint pictures of utopian communication ideals. It is all soft-focus and smiles. The tech world we are painted is without sin, an eschatological vision of what life should be like. Yet it fails to account for that bitter water.
Twitter is merely an extension of our tongue, with an influence and reach beyond our wildest or nastiest dreams.
And what makes it worse is how social media extends our excarnated worlds. We increasingly inhabit a world in which flesh and blood, the “meat” of a human being, is no longer in view when we hurl insults.
At a time when we rejoice over the Incarnation, we are living at a time in which we can say the most outrageous things to others on social media; things we would never say to their faces, and blithely dismiss it as not counting because it was not to their face.
Well we don’t say it to their faces yet, but the more we become at ease with how we insult people on social media, the more we will be trained to doing so face to face. We have shaped our technologies and now they are indeed shaping us.
Empty words: Spoken, written, emailed, tweeted. Surely it’s all the same for a God who by his own Word can judge the thoughts and intentions of our hearts.