One of the wonders of social media has been its ability to allow the common man to seek a measure of justice in situations where the traditional justice system may not be accessible or practical.

A victim of minor road rage or bullying, for example, can turn to social media to publicise and shame a perpetrator. Bad or un-civic behaviour that is not “serious” enough to be reported officially can be called out and highlighted.

There are times, I admit, when it is truly satisfying to see a bully get his comeuppance on social media, after his actions are filmed, shared, and widely criticised—“serves him right!” Perhaps this appeals to our innate sense of justice, especially when we feel that victims (including ourselves) have no access to proper recourse.

But, can this social media “justice” be overdone? Can it, ironically, become injustice?

In several recent cases, I wonder if some of us might have gone too far. A case of apparent road rage on the Tuas Second Link, for example, led to “doxxing”, with online observers digging out the identities and details of those allegedly involved—and prompting some calls for it to stop.

In another case, a woman whose sister was captured on video and criticised for her behaviour, pleaded for understanding for the latter’s behaviour, saying that her sister suffered from mental health issues.

Without going into the debate of what really happened and who was right or wrong, I can’t help but wonder: When is social media justice justified—and when is it not?

As Christians, we value justice greatly, for this is a key characteristic of the God we worship. We are called to speak up for those who have no voice, to be the conscience of society, and to show the world what godly righteousness looks like. As Isaiah 1:17 exhorts us:

Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.

But, as we well know, human justice can be flawed. It is subject to our own prejudices and personal perceptions, as well as the influence of others. We may not know enough to have a proper understanding of the situation to make a truly fair and just assessment.

Unlike in the courts where judges spend time deliberating over the evidence, facts of the case, mitigating factors, and other considerations before coming to an informed conclusion, we—and the court of public opinion—can sometimes make a judgment hastily and unfairly.

In such cases, our pursuit of perceived justice may well end up in injustice.

Does this mean that we should not judge at all? No, for the Bible—contrary to what many might think—does not say not to judge.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”, has to be read in context. Just a few verses down (vv. 2–6) and elsewhere (e.g. John 7:24, Matthew 5:7, Titus 3:2), He shows that we have to assess and judge others in the right way—according to God’s truths and principles, impartially, humbly and not hypocritically, wisely and with discernment, and with the right heart.

Zechariah 7:9–10 offers a useful glimpse of how a Christian can approach the issue of judging, and what else it entails:

This is what the LORD Almighty said: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.”

The justice that we give is to be true and godly, not swayed by emotions, personal preferences, or public opinion. It is to be tempered with mercy, just as God was merciful to us in His judgment. And it is to be accompanied by compassion and care, just as Jesus cared for those around Him even as He brought news of judgment and salvation.

But, we might argue, how can we apply this practically if we’re just reading or watching a news article or video online, or sharing it with others? What kind of justice can we possibly dispense in such a situation?

I believe we can make a difference in the way we share and comment on such news—or, by not sharing and commenting on it. We can withhold judgment when we’re not certain about the facts of a case, and choose not to add to the chorus of condemnation.

Or, we can try to insert a measure of reasonability to the debate, and remind our circle of listeners that there may be mitigating factors we don’t know. If possible, we can even find ways to show our support for those we feel have been judged unfairly.

In our own small way, we can bring a little salt and a little light to the public debate, and give the world around us a glimpse of God’s justice—a true justice that comes with mercy, compassion, and love.

Father, open my eyes to see the things around me from Your point of view, that I will not judge others unfairly and wrongly, but exercise discernment, mercy, and compassion in the way I assess the words and actions of others.

Leslie Koh spent more than 15 years as a journalist in The Straits Times before moving to Our Daily Bread Ministries. He’s found moving from bad news to good news most rewarding, and still believes that nothing reaches out to people better than a good, compelling story. He likes eating (a lot), travelling, running, editing, and writing.

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