Social media: good or bad?
With the explosion of social media over the last decade, it has caused appropriate angst in Christians. We see the way Facebook has caused addictive behaviors and undermined relationships. As a result of social media on mobile devices, husbands and wives commonly say to one another, "Would you please put down your phone?!?!" I was waiting in line at my bank a few months ago and 11 out of the 12 people waiting with me pulled out their phones - likely to check something on social media. Just two days ago, I brought my kids to the park and saw four other kids playing on the playground while their mother sat in her car on her phone.
As I throw daggers at these unsuspecting people, I need to confess that I also reach for my phone far too often. When I am at home, I need to set my phone on the counter far away from me, or out of habit, I will pull it out of my pocket to check Facebook or some other app.
Social media (and mobile phones in general) do not need to be seen as evil or destructive. Like many of the things in this world, often very good things, social media can become a consuming idol if we are not careful. I believe there are some principles that can guide a Christians use of social media which are consistent with a Biblically grounded vision of life.
How Christians can (and should) use social media
It is essential that Christians set appropriate boundaries in many areas of life and social media is no exception. The boundaries you set should be appropriate for you and your relationship to social media. If you sense an extreme attachment, then you may need to create more boundaries. This could mean setting your phone on the counter when you get home from work and leaving it there for the night. It might mean you delete the app from your phone all together. You need to decide what is right for you. The important thing is that you are proactive and set the necessary boundaries. If you are passive in your relationship to social media, it will eventually creep into your life in unhealthy ways and you will soon be confronted with the reality that you have made it into an idol.
Be selfless and generous
Social media is a great way to be selfless. It is so often framed as a medium that promotes selfishness, but I don't believe it has to be that way. Our friends, family and loved ones are often sharing different moments from their lives. Their child may have just taken their first steps, they might be celebrating an anniversary or maybe they got to enjoy a local sporting event. Social media gives us an opportunity to encourage and affirm our friends through likes and comments. We can acknowledge them and be generous in our affirmation.
As we are generous with others, we also have the opportunity to celebrate events in our own lives and the lives of those around us. My wife and I recently had a reveal party to find out the gender of our newest baby. It was a very meaningful time for our growing family (we found out it was a boy!) and it was fun to celebrate with the friends and family that gathered with us. Through Instragram, Twitter and Facebook, we were able to share that moment with hundreds of people who were not able to be there, but got to find out right along with us. Not every moment in our lives needs to be shared via social media, there are some that we should intentionally keep private. But some of our moments do get to be shared and celebrated with the large community that social media creates.
Conduct yourselves well
It is incredible to see how people act on social media - especially some who claim to follow Jesus. For some reason, computer mediated communication (ie. email, social media, blogs) gives people the impression that they can be mean and nasty. Some people are just mean in general, but others are only through social media. If you follow Jesus, then the Fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) governs your actions on social media just as much as when you engage with someone in person. Before you post that comment, ask yourself - Is this Loving? Is this Joyful? Is this Peaceable? Is this Patient? Is this Kind? Is this Good? Is this Faithful? Is this Gentle? Is this Self-controlled? If you cannot answer yes, don't hit enter.
Add value to others lives
Through social media we are able to add value to others lives through the things we share. When you read an article or blog that was helpful, you can share it with others. If you bought a product that you enjoyed, you can let others know where to buy one too. You can share quotes or Bible verses that may encourage others. Every time you share something on social media, you have the opportunity to add value to the lives of others. Do you consider that when you engage in social media?
Social media has given many authors, bloggers, speakers, designers, etc. a platform to share their message with the world. If you have a message worth sharing, then social media is an opportunity to get it into the world. Anyone who follows Jesus has a very important message to share with the world, and we can be creative in the way we do that through social media.
You don't see everything about another person's life
People often share only the good things in life. Remember that when you scroll through your newsfeed. In fact, there is sort of an unwritten expectation that we will not fill one another's newsfeed with constant complaining. We don't often hear about the bad or hard stuff, and Facebook isn't always the best medium to share it anyway. SO, remember that you don't see everything about another person's life. Don't think your life sucks because you are not perpetually living a "social media share worthy" moment. Not every moment in your life will feel like it is worthy of a share because no one has an every moment is worthy of a share type of life. Even though you might feel like they do, they don't. Be careful of this trap and guard your heart.
Life is not about you
Your life isn't really about you anyway. It is first and foremost about God. It is about the glory and fame of His name. After that, Jesus calls us to serve others and says that the way to true greatness in the Kingdom of God is through service (Mark 10:42-45). Don't get too caught up in how many friends you have or how many likes you get, because it has never really been about you. You are not the center of the world, but sometimes social media can make you feel like you are.
Remember that your worth and value is not in notifications
We can sometimes equate our worth and value with the size of the number inside that little red dot next to the Facebook app on our phone. Our worth and value does not come from how many friends we have, how many shares we get or how many likes we accumulate. As followers of Jesus, our worth and identity is found in him. Jesus has given us new life (Eph 2:5), he has made us children of God (Eph 1:5), he has made us righteous (2 Cor 5:21), he has made us a light to the world (Matthew 5:14) and he has redeemed us from the curses (Gal 3:13). Through Jesus, we are more loved than we ever thought possible and in him we find our worth and our value. It can be easy to forget that and search for it in other places. Social media does not give us our worth and value, because that comes from Jesus. A Christian who uses social media well reminds themselves of this often.
Question: In the comments below, let me know your experience with social media and how you have sought to engage in it well as a Christian?