apologize on social media

Ideally, you don’t want to ever post anything on social media that will require an apology.

But we all have blind spots.

We may think we are putting forth one message and don’t see what others see in our message.   You may think using “he” to refer to a pastor is not that big of a deal but it can be very hurtful to women clergy.   You may say something that you thought was funny but comes across as shaming to others.

How do you know if what you have said has crossed a line and is offensive?

The first thing to remember is that social media is…social.

You need to be prepared to engage people.  So even if one or two people post an objection to what you wrote, you should be prepared to look at it from their point of view and engage in civil dialogue.

However, once you get several people expressing that what you wrote is offensive and hurtful, sexist, racist or homophobic, you need to believe them.

It doesn’t matter that you didn’t mean it that way.

It doesn’t matter that you don’t see that way.  Rewrite the post and take out the offensive words, or delete the entire post.   And post a brief, simple apology.

Do not be defensive.

This is the first place we want to go when we are criticized and it is never helpful to be defensive.

Do not write things like “Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a racist…etc.”

This is the internet—most people who read what you write don’t know you.  And they don’t care if you are or are not a nice person.  You wrote something that was offensive to a lot of people.

Just apologize.

“I’m sorry you took it that way,” IS NOT AN APOLOGY.  An apology is YOU taking responsibility for what YOU said.  Not shifting the blame to how others read what you said.

“I didn’t mean it that way” is also not an apology.  I didn’t mean to step on your foot, but I still broke your toe.

Here is an example of how to apologize.

“I apologize that what I wrote was offensive and hurtful to a lot of people.  I have removed those words.  I promise to learn more about this issue so that I will be more careful in the future about how my words on this issue can affect people.”

It also is a good idea to get out of our bubbles and read and learn more about the issues and concerns of people we may not have a lot of contact with.  Twitter is a good place for that.

Note that this is not about apologizing for taking a stand on a controversial issue that may make people angry and offend them.

This can be a dicey area for church leaders.  The church is a place that welcomes people all over the political spectrum.

There are some battles that are worth taking on.

Every leader will need to decide how to take on those battles but even that should not be an individual decision.  Discuss and listen to your colleagues and your church council and mutual ministry teams about how best to address controversial issues.

Make sure you are aware of the costs and consequences of taking on an issue and be willing to engage in civil dialogue with those who disagree.

Social Media can be a good place to address important issues but be aware that you cannot control the outcome of what you post.

As long as you are willing to listen to and engage others, don’t make it personal (about yourself or others), are willing to apologize when necessary and remember that you are representing the church, you should be okay.

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About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson

The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.


Digital Ministry