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To me it makes sense that social media is a neutral tool. Much like the internet itself, it can both be used for good and bad purposes. There are Pastors who would go as far as saying they have a negative bent. I would like to think that while they make some credible points, it’s difficult to paint broad brush strokes about it for everyone. I think in moderation and discipline we can see social media produce good fruit. Not only does the amount of time spent on it factor into the equation, but also how it is used exactly on a case by case basis.
When is social media bad or unproductive?
When we become addicted to pleasing people, it can be a dangerous red flag of social media. We have to get that perfect selfie or sunset to show our friends, sometimes we can fall into a treadmill of wasting time. Instead of enjoying the moment we are consumed by desiring to impress our followers/friends. People who literally might look at our pictures, hit like, and continue after spending a total of 3 seconds considering our post. If we take personal satisfaction in collecting and documenting our life experiences, this same behavior may be more practical. At least if we’re honest with ourselves we can figure out whether we’re trying to please others, or if that is a byproduct of us carving our own life’s “highlight reel”.
This brings me to my next point, it’s not healthy to often compare ourselves to other people. Sure, we can be inspired by someone, but the moment we start spending time analyzing these things on a categorical basis, we’ve probably crossed the line. Instead of looking at the grass being so much greener on the other side of the fence, we need to spend more time watering our own. Social media does have that potential negative influence, but if we guard ourselves against this behavior, I can see it being a non-issue in many cases.
Another scenario where it can be unhelpful is when we use it for a platform to constantly argue with others. There’s room for healthy debate, don’t get me wrong, I definitely feel that we should express ourselves in regards to issues we are passionate about. The problem manifests itself when we attend every potential argument or confrontation. I have been there myself, where I see everyone challenging my view points. While taking part in fighting for the truth might seem a noble cause in the moment, we should typically avoid these potential pitfalls. This especially rings true when we are emotionally charged or otherwise susceptible to share our views in a way that polarizes people. We participate in a way that is unlikely to change the opinion of the opposing party, and instead of showing your side in a positive light, gives others the impression that you’re just in it to win the war with words. It speaks more volumes when we are more logical, not angry, and ready to turn the page if no fruit is derived from the discussion.
I would also like to elaborate a bit about the potential downfalls of isolation. The senses, emotions, body language, and tone are reduced to text. You can find yourself in a place where you’re avoiding face to face communication. Even if you aren’t actually avoiding it, there’s a good chance that you don’t communicate well that way as a result of living on your phone or laptop. We all need to sharpen each other up and have some face to face conversations frequently. We don’t want to spend too much time in a place where the closest thing you get to an in person reaction is an emoji (emoticon). Overcome that social anxiety and don’t buy into the lie that you are socially awkward. I suppose it’s possible to be, but I think with enough practice most of us can get out of that rut. Approach people you don’t know once in a while and talk to them spontaneously. Find ways to enjoy the company of your existing friends in environments that would give you an opportunity to get away from the computer or phone screen.
When you are finally with them, maybe bowling or playing billiards, try to stay away from your social media. Unless you need to check things for work, or some sort of important e-mail reply pertaining to something time sensitive, I don’t see it being reasonable. You want to show your friends that you value them and give them your undivided attention. If you start checking your phone, then others could start doing the same if they weren’t already. Before you know it you’re avoiding your friends for a few extra likes or an unnecessary distraction that you can attend to later. There’s not many things sadder than when you see a group of young teens, or even young adults, all engulfed in their phones. Imagine texting your friend who is around ten feet away from you instead of walking over to their side of the room.
The last thing I wanted to mention as a negative within the scope of this article is the advent of cyberbullying. Of course this article doesn’t serve to be an exhaustive list of pros and cons, but rather provide general ideas that serve to highlight some of the major issues. Prior to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (among others of course) there was bullying occurring in schools for as long as the majority of us can remember. The problem is that now a child or upper level student can find themselves battling two wars instead of one.
In the old days a kid could at least avoid this kind of negative interaction by going home and calling it a day. Sure, they may find themselves in a situation at school where they were being picked on, but at least they could go home and breathe again. Now the bullies can also confront them online, and while they hide behind their computer screens, they could be waging war in the victim’s home as well.
While I don’t have experience either as a bully or a victim on the internet for at least a decade, I don’t remember it being an issue when I was growing up. Sure, we had AOL instant messenger, and potentially shared some communications with people from school too. It just seemed less significant when there was a bully online. If someone was acting like a bully on a video game, we knew the majority of the time this was mainly consistent of foolish behavior of an unknown person living somewhere we had no idea. They could be mean, confrontational, and crass no doubt – but they weren’t going to be bothering me at school the next day. Now with the rise and success of social media, I can see the anonymity shrinking and the cyberbullying to be an extension of a school day. I suppose the silver lining here is that, if the student being victimized is bold enough to take a stand, it is easy to accumulate proof that they’re being consistently wronged. The parents could be informed and proper school protocols could help address the issue at hand.
When is social media good or useful?
Now that we’ve covered some of the negative aspects of social media, we can jump to some of the potentially helpful features. In terms of marketing products, sharing important messages on massive platforms, and staying connected with distant family or friends. I am not going to attempt to weigh the good against the bad to determine whether there’s a net positive expectation to social media. That’s up to the individual to decide on a case by case basis. With that said let’s jump right in to some of the good things about it.
We can grow our platforms by providing content that is relevant to our audiences. I remember when I thought it was cool that I had a couple hundred twitter followers, now I have over 2.3k. This is nothing to write home about, as still others of my friends have 40k or more. Successfully acquiring this amount of followers gives you the responsibility of sharing something meaningful to them. For me there’s nothing more meaningful than sharing the Gospel. If I can share how integral it is for them to get to know Jesus Christ as their Savior, I have succeeded in planting the seeds I am called to plant. So social media can be used to fulfill the Great Commission aspect of our calling. Furthermore it can be used by pastors, preachers, youth leaders, and other teachers of the Word of God to empower others to understand it better. Neither are they just limited by words, but they can also involve visual elements or presentations. Audio commentaries or videos can also be shared on sites like Youtube and iTunes Podcasts.
A great communicator in terms of speaking can focus on a podcast, while a good writer can share on any of the numerous blogging platforms. This is an exciting element, because you can reach up to millions of people on the internet. Even a website with a modest few hundred viewers per month is still averaging around 30 people per day. This is more or less the level where my website FatherSpiritSon began, and even if one becomes a believer out of many thousands, it’s all worth it many times over. Not only do people get converted, but people also learn about the faith to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ through more exposure to His Word.
If someone writes a book, they don’t have to simply rely on a publishing house or a literary agent to help them get it in the hands of consumers. They can even avoid that aspect of it all together and self-publish their book instead. While the traditional means of publication through a publisher and a literary agent are still highly beneficial when the right relationships are formed, it’s good to have a plan B. I self-published a book called “Art of Fearing God”, and while it wasn’t a huge monetary success, I know that those who purchased it and checked it out are better off for it. God inspired me to share a lot about my personal testimony, Biblical provisions for handling life storms, and among other things the rewards of obeying God (both temporarily here on earth and into eternity).
Social media also gives us the opportunity to stay connected with friends and family we may have lost touch with otherwise. If we don’t let ourselves get distracted through the endless newsfeed and comments, we can be deliberate about our time spent on sites like Facebook. A marketing expert who is using their Facebook account to share their latest product probably won’t be using it this way. I don’t think that it is necessarily a terrible thing, but if you want to actually use it as a means to catch up with your friends, you might want to keep it under 300-500 or so friendships/acquaintances. There’s only so much time in the day, and surely even then it would be difficult to keep in touch with everyone for any meaningful depth of conversation. Personally, I have less than 300 friends, and still find myself rarely contacting all of them. I am still quite thankful for it, as I have a sense of timelessness with some of my friends. We can avoid talking to each other for a year, and get back into a conversation as if we were hanging out the day prior. It just depends on the foundation of the friendship (where you met, what you did together, etc), and the mutual desire to touch bases from time to time.
Most employers tend to check social media in the modern era as well. So it’s important to put your best self forward and avoid communicating in a questionable manner. It’s best not to share what you do every waking moment, offend others constantly or otherwise ostracize yourself from conversations by being rude, being overly argumentative and joining every political argument you see, and so forth. I used to participate more in debates I thought were constructive, but many times turned out to be less than ideal. It’s hard to tell if these were bearing enough fruit to justify the time invested in them, but it’s possible some were convicted by them. Now, I pick and choose my battles more selectively. No matter what it’s important to communicate kindly, lovingly, and clearly looking out for the best interest of other people. Many times I caught myself arguing for the sake of “winning” the battle, but the true win is sometimes found in conceding to agree to disagree. You don’t have to change the person you’re having this type of discussion with to find victory. You may also be blessing some quiet or vocal observers as well, and I think there’s a blessing in that too.
I have actually met some great friends on social media. People that I have already met and others that I plan to meet in the future. I think that one must tread lightly in meeting strangers, but over time you get to know people on a deeper level. Most certainly, armed with wisdom and prudence, one can find friends with similar interests online. It gives you an opportunity to talk to them thoroughly, and see what their interests are in cases like Facebook. I am not interviewing them for a job like an employer, but similarly I can see how they react to life on their page. Do they follow pastors I admire? Do they have quotes that share their faith in terms of Biblical heroes or Bible verses? Do they reflect a positive attitude that yields good spiritual fruit through their example as a Christian? Are they constantly attempting to build other people up instead of tear them down?
While the questions may seem endless, over time you do get to know these people on some level. Eventually I think this makes it beneficial to consider meeting friends that you see eye to eye with. We just need to be cautious to take some common sense precautions before meeting anyone in person. Let’s find a public place, well lit, with plenty of room to walk around and talk. Let’s not meet in an area without many people that can be more dangerous at night like a park or a beach. This is a good idea for meeting both new people you come in contact in person through school, work, or a new friend met online. I am sure there are both good and bad experiences that can be shared about this kind of endeavor, but I am confident that with the proper precautions in place this can be a blessing in forming new friendships and from time to time even romances.
I hope this piece has given you a taste of both the positive and negative that we can find in social media. I can’t advocate enough that we exercise wisdom and discretion in deciding what to do with these tools. We need to live as if everything we write in an e-mail, text, forum post, or on the main social media channels (i.e.: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) can potentially be seen by the public. We need to get used to this level of transparency because it’s not too far from the truth. It will also help us to be sure that what we choose to share has meaning, relevance, and is conveyed in a sensible manner. Most of us don’t want to bring others down, and when we do correct someone, we want to do it in love towards our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to build them up. We should aim not to discourage them, but to lift them up in the long run by sharing candidly with them what we ought to. I don’t want to give any friend a false notion that I condone behavior of theirs that is wrong. I rather lose that friend and have a chance of sharing something that could help them avoid the trouble they might be getting themselves into. That’s part of what being a real friend is, and many times social media isn’t a platform suited for that kind of conversation. Face to face talks whenever possible, but otherwise at least talk to them about it over the phone.
I believe that we’ve touched the surface of some major points, and I hope contemplating them blesses you greatly. To God be the glory as best as we can in regards to every post we make going forward.