Virtual Voices
Ellen Barkin
Associated Press/Photo by Photo by Evan Agostini
Ellen Barkin

Tweets, seasoned with salt

2012 Conventions

I've seen actress Ellen Barkin in a few movies, including The Big Easy with Dennis Quaid and Desert Bloom with Jon Voight. She's a liberal, like most in Hollywood (Voight is conservative), but I never expected her to be nasty. At the start of last week's GOP convention, she retweeted a fellow liberal's comment:

Highway Star@HighwayStarrrr

@EllenBarkin C'mon #Isaac! Wash every pro-life, anti-education, anti-woman, xenophobic, gay-bashing, racist SOB right into the ocean! #RNC

Unless otherwise noted, a retweet is an endorsement. Barkin hopes pro-lifers, small government advocates, and traditional marriage protectors drown. Such tweets are easy to dismiss, but the whole thing bothered me. I typically don't engage liberals on Twitter, but I felt Barkin needed a response from an atypical Republican voter.

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I told her to shut up (not nice, I know) and asked her what reasonable person wishes death on someone who believes unborn babies should live. I said I was pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-immigration enforcement, etc., and that I'd pray for her. Barkin's retweet made CBS News, and one of my responses that said I pointed out that I was all things she hated - a Christian, conservative black woman - appeared in the story.

Although most Twitter users know what a retweet is, Barkin tried to pass the buck, reminding us that she didn't write the tweet. In the scheme of things, this is trivial. Nevertheless, it demonstrates how unreflective people can be and how sitting behind a computer screen can bring out the worst in all of us. Twitter is brief and fast moving, and the feedback is immediate. It can be addictive. I get the feeling some users forget their feeds are public. They give in to the temptation to say anything and everything, seemingly unaware that millions might see their comments, many of whom strongly disagree with them.

After Barkin responded to me, I replied once, then let it go. I'm old enough to know actors are fallen human beings just like the rest of us. Still, it made me kind of sad. When we exalt people on the big screen as children, we do so naively. As adults, we might still harbor a bit of wonder, that movie stars are otherworldly. Under the old Hollywood system, studios controlled a star's image. Now it's a free-for-all, where raunchy actors in raunchy movies can say raunchy things online and do raunchy things in public. The good news is that we can respond. Sometimes users backtrack and delete vulgar comments. Other times they stand by their smut.

While some consider social media a waste of time, the tools themselves are neutral. They can be used for good or evil. They can be used to evangelize or to titillate. We can waste time on them, we can engage others, and we can persuade others. We can be witnesses and hold ourselves out as Christ followers, slow to anger and willing to give a response. Where others choose to be vile and vulgar, we may answer with grace, seasoned with salt.

La Shawn Barber
La Shawn Barber

La Shawn writes about culture, faith, and politics. Her work has appeared in the Christian Research Journal, Christianity Today, the Washington Examiner, and other publications

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