Having lived through the birth of Social Media, I remember when Facebook was only allowed for college students and when Myspace was where you discovered the best up-and-coming musicians. A whole new world was created with fresh relational opportunities – and the invention of memes! I loved that I could be reunited with old High School friends and I could see fun pics of loved ones who lived far away. I also witnessed a turning point in the online climate during the 2016 Election and how quickly the internet and Social Media became a more rugged atmosphere ranging from strong opinions and robust dialogue to accusations and lies.
Like many of you, I’ve seen this tool used for both joy and destruction.
We are in another new era with Social Media as we continue to navigate the pressurized landscape of COVID-19, the exposed realities of a racialized nation, and see the arrival of another divisive election in 2020. Many are searching for wisdom on how to utilize Social Media as a Christ follower through all of this.
Before I continue, let me be the first to say I am not a Social Media Expert and don’t claim to know all the intricacies of social media algorithms, the emotional toll of cyberbullying, etc. There are books written on the multitude of Social Media factors that could be considered a part of this discussion. Second, Social Media is young in its development and there is a lot we have to learn about this medium to have any “final words.”
I also don’t claim to have divine knowledge outside of my discernment process for applying the scripture and Godly wisdom applied to these platforms. Much of this falls under personal conviction and I encourage you to read Romans 14 so that you are operating under conviction since, “everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
All that to say, this is certainly not a comprehensive opinion on the use of Social Media as a Christian, but I would like to help by adding some ideas to the conversation in this article series.
Risk and Responsibility
According to Merriam Webster, Social Media is a form of “electronic communication (such as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (such as videos).” Therefore, it is an extension of our living platform and represents us in an online profile for many to observe.
I believe Social Media should reflect your Christian convictions, as well as the wisdom you use in any communication platform. But consider these two unique attributes of social media…
- It’s an electronic PUBLIC SQUARE: The network reaches as far and wide as a cross-section of many variables: your privacy settings, the extent of your following/friendship, the tracking of your actions for advertisers, and the fact that someone can “screenshot” your profile and circulate it to others. So, while there are some ways to promote/restrict your platform, anything you publish has some level of public permanence and the potential for a viral spread (intentionally or unintentionally). It’s hard to know what level of control you actually have over what you post, and it’s more public than you may realize.
- It’s a MUTED COMMUNICATION: It’s often said that the vast majority of communication is non-verbal, so you lose a lot of the nuance on Social Media that is found from direct face-to-face communication. When you post text online (even with an emoji to punctuate it), remember that Social Media is a muted communication that removes facial cues, body language, and reactionary responses. The things you say and do may have different effects than you intended.
With the two realities listed above, Social Media has an added level of public engagement with added layers of possibilities (including a high possibility of miscommunication). Considering the advantages and risks, you should be aware that you are responsible for the repercussions of the way you decide to use your Social Media accounts.
In other words, there is a cost to your participation in these platforms…have you weighed that?
Truth-Tellers in an Age of Alternative Facts
Pilate struggled to understand “truth” when Jesus was standing right in front of Him and, as followers of Christ, we should understand that Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life.” Truth is at the core of the Gospel and we should be diligent to guard our words from lies, slander, and any speech that is false.
Additionally, while I wholeheartedly believe in absolute truth, I also believe our perspectives, backgrounds, and environments shape the way we receive information. None of us should buy into the idea that we are “autonomous individual selves” who are immune to bias. We need, to the best of our ability, undergo a process to check our hearts in order to differentiate from what is actual truth and what is accurate from a particular perspective and present it as such.
With so much untruth circulating around the internet, we should stand out as those committed to protecting it and calling it out (in love) when we encounter it. For more on this, check out Ed Stetzer’s article for Christianity Today. Telling truth when you post means checking to make sure the things you say and circulate:
- Are factually true
- Originate from credible sources
- Are not just serving the tendency for confirmation bias’
- Are not just opinions being presented as facts (opinions are good just be clear on this).
Setting the Social Landscape Ablaze
Since Social Media didn’t exist in ancient times, we lean on our interpretation of the timeless wisdom found in scripture for communication but that may also lead to tension and to interpretive convictions.
Consider this from James 3:5-6 “…the tongue is a small part of the body, but it boasts of great things. Consider how small a spark sets a great forest ablaze. The tongue also is a fire, a world of wickedness among the parts of the body. It pollutes the whole person, sets the course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” Pretty intense, right? Every one of us has seen Social Media set ablaze like a wildfire with lies, “alternative facts,” and racist jokes and this passage seems to ring true. We should be cautious to filter our words through James’ admonishment and consider how our words affect the world around us.
On the other hand, I have witnessed the use of verses like these being applied to silence others’ opinions. They were angry because they simply didn’t like, or disagreed with, the position being posted. Think about it, Pharaoh could have used this same logic when he didn’t like Moses saying, “let my people go.” He could also have said you are causing disunity in Egypt by speaking up about this issue – but Moses’ words spoke righteousness and were ordained by God. The work of discernment should be done behind the scenes and the problem is that pharaohs rarely know, or want to admit, they might be pharaohs.
My point is this: just because you are triggered by someone’s opinion, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have been shared. The truth, at times, sears like a fire but it is not the same fire James warns us against.
As we continue the conversation, we are going to explore the place of justice topics, the platform equity of Social Media, and the big question, “is it fruitful to have these discussions on Social Media?”
Until then, consider the questions below as you navigate and engage on your Social Media platforms and check out my friends at the Gravity Leadership Podcast. They explore Social Media further and bring up some great points that you should consider when operating online!
Questions to ask before Engaging in a Social Media:
- Are you considering the “public” nature of your thoughts? Are you working to overcome the “muted” nature of text-only communication?
- Is what I am posting true? Have I looked up the sources to know that it is credible and the information is true?
- If you are confronting someone, is it done in a heart of correction or something else?
- Are you working to recognize and differentiate your opinions from facts and presenting them accurately?
- What’s your motivation for posting? Are you starting a fire and what kind of fire is it?