The court of public opinion sows moral disease. Far from administering justice, this court renders verdicts without evidence and sentences without process.
But “everyone is entitled to his opinion.” No, everyone is not. Everyone is entitled to his informed opinion. An uninformed opinion is no opinion at all. An uninformed opinion—a strong conviction devoid of evidence—has a different name. It is called prejudice.
And prejudice rules the Internet.
Of course I expect the world to bandwagon upon each wave of outrage that sweeps across social media. I expect that many people will treat their feelings of indignation as evidence. I expect that the prejudiced will be unwilling to hear or to respect any different view. I expect that people of outrage will attempt to silence those who refuse to join their outrage.
I expect better from Christians. Proverbs 18:13 teaches, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” In other words, listen. No, not just to one article from one perspective from one person. Listen. Every story is a diamond, replete with multiple facets. Look at it from more than one angle. And remember that Proverbs 29:20 asks, “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” In other words, speak only after listening. Speak only when informed. Speak gently. Speak not from a place of outrage.
If you are a Christian, do your words proceed from opinion or prejudice? Do they flow from a heart that understands its own guilt? More fundamentally, how would you want people to talk about you online? Would you like to be excoriated in the court of public opinion? Would you consider that just? Will you then live by the Golden Rule or not?
Those who prosecute others on social media often do so in the name of justice. They present themselves as proverbial “social justice warriors.” What an irony! There is nothing just about condemning another human being online because the public—which is often bizarrely ignorant—is outraged. Such behavior in no way represents justice. In fact, it represents a perversion of justice.
Real courts exist. Courts of the civil government pursue, reveal, and enforce justice. Courts of the church likewise dig to determine truth, to secure accountability, and to reflect the work of Christ, whose judgment is and always will be flawless.
But the court of public opinion is a kangaroo court that derives authority only when people choose to participate in it.
If you’re a follower of Christ, don’t.