Faith in the Age of Facebook
It will not take anyone very long if they use social media of any kind (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) to find instances where it has been abused, or misused in ways that can deeply impact our relationships. Before I go too far, I would like to explain that I am not writing to convince people to stop using social media. Although from time to time a little more time away might help to calm nerves and connect with our families and friends face to face. This is an attempt to thoughtfully look at how our faith is faring in the Age of Facebook.
In more recent days the rise of social media of all forms has given the world a wider range of people, personalities, politics, causes, social and revolutionary uprisings, and a diversity of faith perspectives. I do not know a great deal about all of the subjects so I will speak more about and concerning faith. I am a Christian and so most of my thoughts will be centered in that conversation, however I think much of what I will say here is nothing new but will also be practical in nature.
I do not believe that social media is at the heart of the issue. Social media gives users unusual freedom and latitude to express themselves and their views. It has proven very helpful to get a larger picture of what is going on around the world. Social media helps to tell a more complete story during recent revolutions around the world. Places where governments have try to insulate and isolate their treatment of their own people from the world as not to draw attention, criticism, or reaction.
On the other hand this same freedom to share in a very raw way what is going on around the world has also led many others to use that same freedom in many other destructive ways. We now have new term cyber-bullying because kids are now no longer being bullied just a school be a few people but now quite literally are being bullied all the time by anyone who has access to the internet. In just a few moments an unflattering picture and hurtful words can be “liked”, “shared”, or “retweeted”. Instantly into the hands of many people in a matter of seconds, with often no filter or second thought as to the severity of the hurt caused. Perhaps worse, people are aware of the hurt they are causing and are doing so to inflict as much harm as possible.
There may be some who would read this and think “well they are kids” “didn’t we all do things like that when we were kids?” Bullying is not new and neither is the harm caused by it. What seems to be worsening is the justifying of it, and that it is not just kids who are bullying. There are grown people who bully one another, cut one another down, manipulate and hurt one another, and sometimes these “grown people” even feel like it is their right and o.k. to bully kids on social media.
Many people daily share their opinions, their lives, their politics, their faith, their emotions, their hurts, their pains, and their sorrow. People often share to feel validated, to not feel alone, to share common interests, politics, place, and friends. In the push to feel this way sometimes we allow validation to lead to vindication, loneliness to lashing out, and sharing common things to having common “enemies.” In a place of extreme freedom like the internet or social media there seems to be a lessening restraint. The “I can say what I want to” and “I’m entitled to my opinion” seems to be the justification for any manner of destructive talk or behavior.
The term “internet troll’, refers to a person or person(s) who interjects themselves in a group or cause claiming to have the same opinions or feelings but will soon sow destruction. They usually make a statement or a question trying to get emotional responses from people in the group. Sometimes trolls just to try to get the members of the group off target or talking about something else. For other trolls, they just love to argue and love the chaos that they cause. A lot of the times this is done through a fake name, email, or social media account. Often trolls are just looking for a fight or to frustrate, as the phrase has become popular, “Don’t feed the trolls.” Do not give trolls more ammunition for their arsenal of discord. Please be cautious not to go “trolling.”
When there is a perception of expanded freedom, instant support, distance from differing opinions, or in some cases remaining completely anonymous people not only feel free but often justified in their views. This type of freedom/justification often leads to expanding personal freedom at the sake of another person’s freedoms and feelings . While I do feel that one should have the “freedom” to have their opinions, I think a believer’s opinions should be accompanied by restraint, responsibility and done in a personal way.
What is the responsibility of a person in faith in the age of the internet, Facebook, and other social media? I will not claim to speak of a faith that I am not familiar so let me speak of Christianity. Faith is not just a statement of belief but is a statement made by the lives of believers. The book of James reminds us that “faith without deeds is dead.” Faith is practice, practical, and it should inform and shape our understanding of and living out of daily life.
There may be some who would say at this point “if I am a Christian, then I should speak the truth especially if we know the other person is wrong.” Scripture informs us that we are called to “speak the truth in love.” Speaking the truth can and sometimes will hurt, however the end goal of speaking the truth is not to try to cause hurt or prove someone else wrong or even because “God needs us to do so.” Speak the truth in love. Speaking truth without love makes for legalism with which also will be bound. Speaking only of love without truth leads to liberalism and robs the gospel of its power to transform lives. The point of speaking the truth in love is to seek to bring about restoration of relationships between God and the individual and that individual and others. This truth-speaking is personal and has as its goal restoration of relationships. The word confrontation means to come face to face and does not have to be explosive.
Whenever possible confrontation should be done in a personal face to face manner where tone, expression, context and allow for dialogue. Be thoughtful about whether these comments are necessary at this time or at all. Is the comment you are about to make a well thought out action or a reaction? I pray that we all strive to be people of thoughtful action. If you are one being confronted, try to not assume the worst or the other person’s intentions, but also consider if there is any merit to their comments. A friend might risk saying something that may be hurtful in the short-term but has our ultimate good at heart and the restoration of relationships.
It is far easier for us to sit behind a screen in the land of social media lobbing “holy hand-grenades” at one another in an attempt to inflict as much damage as possible. Little thought is generally given to how many times these are friendly fire incidents. I would like to suggest getting off of Facebook and perhaps putting our faces in God’s book. Pray asking God to expose my motives and if need be change my heart. After having done so, if something needs to be addressed do so in a personal, face to face manner. The goal confrontation, speaking the truth in love should be to bring about restoration where possible, and will often require something of both individuals. An example when someone has hurt you in a personal way, it may be easy to confront but hard to forgive. Prayer about our own heart should always come first, trying to have a short memory and a gracious spirit.
Social media in and of itself is not the problem, but unlike traditional media it often does not have the same regulations or restraint. What I do think social media can do is offer an opportunity to speak words of hope and encouragement into people’s lives. Social media can provide the opportunity for people of differing views, political ideologies, parenting styles, and religious believes to have healthy respectful dialogue.
5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. ~James 3:5-10
Although James was speaking of gossip and destructive talk, I would suggest that social media of today gives greater opportunity for destructive thoughts and conversation to spread more quickly. We should be more careful to encourage whenever possible one another in public and confront lovingly face to face in a private personal manner.
14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. ~Psalm 19:14
My prayer for myself and for all believers is that we would seek to speak life as much as possible. The words of our mouths would be pleasing in the sight of the Lord, because the words of our mouths come from the mediation of our hearts. Do our words reflect the Word, Jesus Christ, whether those words are spoken to a few, a small group, or done behind a screen?
May the Grace and Peace of Christ Be With You!