Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and so on have been some of the big developments of the last 5 years in terms of their impact on society. But what does the gospel have to say about our use of them? I think we need to be honest and say that there is potential for great good in social media, in terms of being able to stay in touch encourage people, show love and concern to people, share prayer requests, and simply begin to build friendship. But as with anything in the world we live in there is also the potential for what is good to be twisted by sin. Social Media can be used to wound, to manipulate, to boast, to fuel a temptation to self-centredness and or arrogance and pride. So how ought to we to use social media, what does the gospel have to say about our engagement with one another through these tools?
I'm just beginning to think this through and will post some thoughts now and probably some more refined ones later. I'd love comments, thoughts and so on...
They have the potential to help build relationships but cannot be the sole basis for a friendship
I think there are lots of great possibilities that these tools open up for us to get to know one another and to begin to share likes, dislikes etc... But ultimately they are not a real relationship or friendships. That means that they are limited in their scope to do us good. The Bible talks about gospel relationships as real honest open loving friendship which is not massaged to reflect a public persona but about loving the real person deeply. This ought to mean we recognise social media as a tool to spread information, to keep in contact, but also recognise its limitations for building real gospel friendships.
They have the potential to be used sinfully
Interestingly I wonder if we are as careful about what we put on a social media site as we are about what we would say to people face to face. I can't help wondering if the very nature of social media leads us to be less careful what we do with it. Here are some areas where I think we ought to check our use of social media so that we do not sin:
Gossip - Social media thrives on gossip, it has become the new playground in those terms. The gospel ought to be changing us so that we are not those who are known as gossips.
Manipulation - Social Media provides an opportunity to vent our feelings as never before. We ought to ask ourselves why we are putting up statuses that reveal how we feel. I'm not saying we ought not to be honest, but honesty in a real relationship face-to-face with those who we know love us deeply as brothers. Rather than the comment about how low we feel which is 'fishing' for care or simply testing to see if someone cares.
Slander - You don't have to be on a social media site long before you see either in others, or sadly in yourself, the potential for slandering others be it someone in the public eye or just a friend. Ephesians 4:31-32 would call on us to put aside slander along with malice and replace it with a tender hearted kindness to one another fuelled by the grace that we have experienced in Christ. Maybe these verses ought to be taped to the top of our monitor so that we do not forget them when on-line.
Boasting - We don't tend to sit around over coffee at church or in our small groups and up date people on how well we have done this week, or how we succeeded at this or that. Yet frequently that is what we do on social media sites. Now there is a careful balance to be struck here, but I want to ensure in myself that I am not boasting in my ability but in the cross of Christ.
Pride - Is closely linked in with the previous danger, boasting in our achievements can lead to pride which we ought to be laying aside.
As I've been thinking about this I've been musing on James and wondering how it might be read in light of our social media context. The Bible is relevant and applicable to just this subject:
'Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my friends, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Those who are never at fault in what they say, post and tweet are perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue and typing fingers are small parts of the body, but make great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tweet, update and tongue also are a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by human beings, but no one can tame the tongue or social media. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With the tongue, Facebook and Twitter we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth and keyboard come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.'
I'll post more thoughts on this later in the week as I think about it further but for now I want to careful consider my use of social media in light of its potential to lead to into sin almost unawares.