Social Media & Communication That is Christian- Part 2

  Author: Tim Bouffard

Something to think about...

Apparently, one can read some interesting things on the Facebook pages of friends and family. Everything from how a person feels at any given moment to what their pet did that day is expressed by Facebook users. But many people I know who use Facebook are beginning to wonder if this information is useful. 

"Unless I ask, why do I need to know how you feel today? What's the purpose of knowing that your dog got sick on the carpet before you left for work? Is it really that important to know your current dating status? Why are you telling me that you are having the best vacation anyone has ever had?" These are the kinds of real questions some of my friends and acquaintances have asked when telling me about why they are tired of using Facebook. I have been thinking about these questions lately and have concluded that they are legitimate. Why does anyone need to know these things, unless the information was specifically requested? In other words, what are the motives behind this communication?

Communication that is Christlike:              Just the opposite:
Truth                                                                     Falsehoods, rumors, gossip, exaggeration

Truth in love                                                        Selfish motives, desired outcomes, attempt to make myself feel better

Building others up                                              Slander, malice, vengeance, pharisaism

Selflessness/humility                                         Emotional immodesty, self-promotion, narcissism, complaining

God-honoring, worthy of respect                    Dishonoring to God, celebrity worship, coarse jesting, foolishness

Surely, not all communication via social media is done with wrong motives. But as Christians, we are called to purposeful, God-honoring communication - this is very clearly expressed in scripture (see Part 1 of this article in the last newsletter, summarized in the table above). With the proliferation of social media over the last few years, it is important to think wisely about our use of these forms of communication. A simple way of evaluating ourselves is to use the basic interrogatives: who, what, when, where, why and how. In this segment, we will consider the first three: who, what and when.

Social media essentially gives us the ability to communicate with an unlimited number of people. Think about that for a moment. I can place content on the Internet and in a matter of minutes, millions of people can view it. But do we give much thought to this reality, especially when we post thoughts, comments, photos or other information on a Facebook page or via email? Communicating through social media is a truly public form of communication. Posts made now could be regretted in the future. Employers considering job applicants regularly perform internet searches to examine content related to individuals. While many think that their activity on the internet is private, it simply is not true. It is more than possible to unintentionally inform people about ourselves who should not be informed. Sitting in the privacy of our home when posting creates a false sense of privacy and security. But once posted, it is more public than we can imagine. Before you use social media, think about with whom you truly intend to communicate.

Another important consideration related to the issue of people and social media is children. Much can be said about this subject - too much for the purpose of this article. However, parents need to seriously explore the potential benefits and possible dangers and drawbacks of children having access to social media. There exists a vast amount of information and guidance on this subject, including information from Christian organizations. Take time to inform yourself before allowing your children significant access to social media.

There is so much to consider in regards to the question of what is appropriate to communicate though social media in light of the call to Christ-like communication. Here are a few specific forms of content to consider. The first is gossip. Gossip is a continual temptation simply because our sinful flesh delights in knowing the "personal business" of others in order to feel better about ourselves. It is a comparison game and it feeds our pride when we have "information" that others don't have. And it destroys relationships (Proverbs 16:28). Social media is a prime environment for gossip. It is quick, easy and less than personal. Our consciences are less likely to be pricked when we are not present with people. All of scripture condemns gossip and warns us about the negative and destructive outcomes. Before you communicate something about someone via social media, be absolutely certain it is not gossip and if there is any doubt in your mind, don't post it.

Another form of content to avoid is complaining. Followers of Jesus are specifically challenged not to complain in order to communicate our hope that is not based on circumstances. When we choose to deal with the frustrations of life without complaining, we are being a witness to the reality of the gospel (read Philippians 2:14-16). Certainly, there is much to complain about in life - politics, sickness, things breaking down and being mistreated, among many others - but all of these things fade in light of our confident hope that suffering and disappointment are temporary. Don't use social media as a means to complain. It only perpetuates the false belief that personal happiness and comfort are the ultimate objectives in life and it does nothing to help point others to the reality of hope in Jesus.

Here's another form of content from which Christians should refrain: attacking. Electronic forms of communication are less than personal which make them a useful platform to launch attacks on others from what we believe to be safe distances. Email, Facebook, Twitter, texting and instant messaging can be likened to fortress walls behind which we lob hurtful and sometimes hateful messages. People say things they likely would not say in face-to-face interactions. The very idea of attacking others or barraging them with vitriolic, vengeful, angry or slanderous communication is fundamentally un-Christian (Ephesians 4:31). We are called to peace, patience, kindness, caring confrontation and love. Attacking others through social media in no way reflects the heart of God. Before launching an attack via social media, ask yourself the following: Would I or should I say this face-to-face?

Another inappropriate form of content from which Christians should abstain is communication that expresses disrespect for those in authority. Followers of Jesus not only have an obligation to speak respectfully of those in authority (Ephesians 6:1-3; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 3:17), but also have been set free from the power of the sinful nature to want to do such things. In other words, we should honor those in authority because it is the right thing to do and because it reflects the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the dynamic of spiritual maturity. Mocking, ridiculing and slandering people in authority is so easily accomplished through internet communication tools. But without even evaluating our motives for doing so, we must recognize it as wrong and immature. Before posting a disrespectful picture, joke, comment or opinion about an authority figure in any context - political, religious, academic, community, family - evaluate it through the lens of scripture and the heart of God.

There are many other forms of communication that Christians should avoid, but one more critical form to consider is boasting. It is an understatement to say that many Americans are obsessed with fame. Reality television and the selfish use of the internet are a few examples of this obsession. Social media tools like Facebook, blogs and Twitter provide the average citizen with a platform for endless boasting and self-focus. But like the other harmful forms of communication we have explored, boasting is antithetical to the Christian ideal. Followers of Jesus are to be like him - selfless and humble in our communication, actions and attitudes (Philippians 2:1-11). Examine some of the personal content accessible on the Internet; how much of it reflects pride, boasting and selfish ambition? Look at your own Facebook posts - who are they about? Of course, not all information about oneself is inherently boastful. Sharing photos, stories and updates about ourselves, our families and our lives can serve noble purposes. Social media provide easy, inexpensive and creative means of staying in touch with friends and family from whom we are separated by distance. We can communicate critical information like prayer needs and ministry project outcomes quickly, easily and broadly. But we can also merely promote ourselves and feed our flesh which is inherently selfish. Be careful not to use these forms of communication to boast about yourself (Proverbs 27:2).

Analysts estimate the average Facebook user spends an average of more than seven hours per month on the social media network. This fall, the amount of time users spent per month on the Facebook's mobile site exceeded the time spent per month on the classic site. This points to the growing use of mobile devices but also reveals the fact that people can't stay off of Facebook for very long, carrying it with them on their smartphones and tablet devices. The amount of time we spend surfing the internet and communicating electronically is significant and needs to be examined through the biblical command to make the most of our time (Ephesians 5:15-16). Some people sabotage needed sleep, put off important tasks and neglect responsibilities by choosing to spend too much time on the internet or on social media sites. Additionally, some engage in the use of electronic forms of communication while in settings where other people are present. The outcome is often disrespectful to those present. Accessing and interacting with others through the internet while being with someone else in a conversation, class, church service or mealtime communicates, intentionally or otherwise, that the person or persons physically present are not important or at least can be disregarded in order to respond to a picture or comment on one's Facebook page. As Christians, we are called to respect each other and love each other and this certainly includes giving one's undivided attention to those with whom I am engaging. Be careful about when you use social media and electronic forms of communication (Philippians 2:4).

In the next installment, we will consider the questions where, why and how in light of our use of social media. But as you think about the who, what and when, remember the following well-known saying: "Think before you speak." This advice is incredibly useful, not to mention biblical - James instructed his readers to be "slow to speak." What follows are several things to think about regarding the use of social media in short-form - by no means is this an exhaustive consideration of all the dangers and pitfalls inherent in electronic forms of communication. But they do represent a starting point from which to examine the nature of the motives behind our "Tweets", instant messages, emails, Facebook posts and blogs that will be examined in the next article. Consider them now with an open mind and with a willingness to allow God to search your heart (Psalm 139).

Dangers and pitfalls of communication via social media:

  • Emotional immodesty...
  • Pharisaism...
  • Physical immodesty...
  • Celebrity worship, including Christian celebrity worship...
  • Addictive nature of social media...
  • Temptation to unfaithfulness...
  • Associating with bad company...
  • Personal harm...
  • Use of a powerful resource without love...

Ephesians 5:15-16: "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil."