Lots of bloggers are talking this week about free speech and the ethics of online discussion in the wake of death threats made against a tech blogger. [Quick word of caution: the threats are quite unpleasant, and a few of the links in that Slashdot story reference them.] Kathy Sierra, the target of the attacks, has stopped blogging and cancelled a conference appearance as a result. I've seen numerous posts to the effect that Sierra is over-reacting, but I think that attitude seriously underestimates the chilling effect that hateful speech can have, whether or not it's backed by an actual physical threat.
I think this Washington Post article sums up the issues raised by this sort of ugly incident: there's a lot of this sort of vileness out there on blogs and in blog comment sections, and it's hard to know what to do about it. Ignore it? Delete it? Respond to it in an attempt to refute it? I'm sure that, like me, you've seen otherwise decent blogs or forums get bogged down by unpleasantness to the point where it just doesn't seem worth the trouble to wade through it all in search of the good.
I don't have any brilliant commentary on the situation. I'll just say that if ever there was a genuine need for Christians to lead by example, it's in the way we talk online, where our words are being read and weighed by more people than we probably realize. Most Christian blogs (at least the ones I read regularly) are pretty good about this--but when we leave the confines of the "Christian blogosphere," do we maintain our virtuous standards of speech? When Christians participate in blog and forum conversations about politics, world news, or whatever else, do our words stand out from the rest in the way they communicate respect and love, even in disagreement?
Here's a little challenge to think about: as you do your blog reading this week, keep an eye out for conversations that are in need of a more respectful and constructive voice, and weigh in with an opinion that points readers to Christ--even if you never mention God or Jesus by name.
update: Rob at the Effective Web Ministry Blog offers some thoughts on this and related subjects, and is calling for discussion about it.