I’ve heard a lot of people, even in the secular world, bemoaning the evils of social media.
And the concerns are legitimate. Virtually all of us with a computer or smartphone use some form of it–Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest–even the blog you’re reading right now! All of these, while simplifying our lives in some ways, can certainly complicate it in others. Some say the easy connectivity with people all around the globe actually stunts our ability to develop meaningful personal relationships. Others lament the complete self-absorption social networking sites can encourage or the valuable time they can consume.
As I said, they’re all valid concerns. But, like it or not, social media is here to stay. As a way of gathering and sharing information and staying connected with friends and family, it’s an important and sometimes vital tool. If Facebook and sites like it ever meet their demise, it will only be because they are replaced with similar sites in better, more user-friendly formats. As much as some would love to turn back time and erase the rise of social media, it can’t be done. Let’s face it: This is life in the 21st century.
The misuse and abuse of social networking prompts some Christians to suggest abstaining from it altogether. While I believe that’s becoming increasingly difficult to do, I nevertheless respect those who feel that way.
I find it’s more common, however, for people to suggest shunning only certain forms of social media, usually Facebook, even while embracing others like Instagram or YouTube. ALL THREE are social media, ALL THREE are often misused and, personally, I’ve accidentally encountered far more filth on YouTube in an afternoon than I’ve encountered on Facebook in four years’ time. But maybe I should save that soapbox for another day…
Regardless, I understand why Facebook has a poor reputation with so many Christians. Why? Because of the way so many Christians use it! I’ve seen it for myself–Christians having online meltdowns or taking potshots at fellow believers for all the world, or at least for their 1136 “friends”, to see. But what some wish to blame on the advances of technology I believe rests justly at the feet of sinful man.
**Nothing makes an appearance on Facebook that is not first in the heart.
So how should a Christian use Facebook? How should their use of social networking look different from that of unbelievers?
How much time you spend on social media, who you befriend there, and how much information you share are issues for another time. There are some basic guidelines that we as Christians should keep in mind every time we post on our Facebook page or someone else’s. And though I’m naming Facebook in particular, I’m really speaking to all forms of social media. The same principles should apply for every tweet on Twitter, every pic on Instagram, every video on YouTube, and every comment posted to all of the above.
1. Could this post negatively affect my Christian testimony?
While I don’t believe a Christian’s Facebook status has to be spiritual 100% of the time, I DO believe it should be Christian 100% of the time! Whether we’re comfortable with it or not, what we post on Facebook reflects not only on us, but on the God we claim to serve. The language we use, the attitudes we present, and the pictures we post all demonstrate our devotion to Christ. Foul or crude language, suggestive statements or pictures, angry or critical rants, cruel and demeaning comments, even those intended for humor–ALL can bring the sincerity of our faith into question and dishonor God.
I’m sure you’ve heard some form of the following question: If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be evidence enough to convict you? Maybe we can add to that with this: If you were accused of being a Christian, would your Facebook page bring it into doubt?
2. What does this post say about me?
I realize this is closely related to #1, but bear with me here. Sometimes we can post things that don’t necessarily bring our faith into question, but may cause others to wonder about our disposition or our stability, which doesn’t do much to advance the cause of Christ either!
Let me give you an example. One night I had a horrible run-in at a local grocery store with an incredibly angry man who thought I had intentionally stolen his shopping cart. And I’m not kidding. The man was yelling in my face, I was in shock, and two employees in the produce department stopped their work and were poised to tackle him. It all happened very quickly and aside from scaring the living daylights out of me, I was unharmed, but I was really, really shaken by the entire encounter. When I got home later, still nervous and pretty distraught, I sat down and thought to spew some of my fear and frustration on Facebook.
Before I could finish the status, however, my husband stopped me and advised me not to post it. Later, when I’d had time to cool down a bit more, I was glad I had listened to him.
Truth be told, I sounded a little crazy in that post! I was crazy at that moment–still shaky and justifiably disturbed by an awful stranger who had reminded me how many human time bombs we’re brushing up against every day! But as understandable as my frustration and fear was, posting it on Facebook would not have been helpful. It may have earned me a little sympathy from a few people, but it may very well have made we look LOOPY to many others!
We should be very, very careful what we post to social media in times of emotional distress. We can all-too-easily come across as emotionally unstable people. We should never post in anger lest we look like embittered hotheads. We should avoid posting only the negatives of our lives. Without meaning to do so, we can look either incredibly self-centered, starved for attention, or hopelessly depressed.
3. Could this post hurt someone else?
Let me start out here by saying I realize there are people who are overly sensitive and easily offended. Sometimes we can make our best effort and still end up hurting someone unintentionally. And may I remind us all NOT to be that kind of Facebook user either–getting our feelings hurt over a photograph from a birthday party we weren’t invited to or becoming jealous over every opportunity we see someone else receive. Facebook does much to reveal our own pettiness sometimes.
But while we can’t tiptoe around the feelings of each and every friend on our friends list, it is important to slow down and consider how our posts may be perceived by others. Never post anything that could be considered unkind or vindictive. Avoid subjects you know to be sensitive issues with certain people. Respect the privacy of others and exercise caution in posting about them.
Blatant personal attacks on Facebook are inexcusably unChristian, but subtle, carefully-worded, probably-not-discernable-to-everyone jabs at others are just as wrong. When we have issues with another person, which is sure to happen because we are human, Facebook is not the place to air our differences OR make our own defense. (Nor is it the place to post scriptures strategically aimed at rebuking others either!)
Making fun of people is still unkind and unChristian, even when it can be done in the remote, detached way social media allows. Feelings can still be hurt, often in far greater ways than old-fashioned bullying allowed. Generally speaking, if what we are about to post is something we couldn’t say to a person face-to-face, then it’s likely we shouldn’t be posting it at all.