With the news from Wall Street that Facebook is going public, we can be confident the social media giant aims to stay around for a while. And why shouldn’t it? With more than 845,000,000 monthly users, the company has become deeply ingrained the public’s psyche. Whether your preference is Facebook or Twitter or one of the hundreds of other services, social networking is firmly rooted as the new way to “do community.” The ability to connect or reconnect with these networks offers innumerable benefits and privileges we simply did not have before. We are, however, becoming increasingly aware of the limitations of virtual community and the problems associated with our being so connected.
Talk with enough folks who regularly use Facebook or Twitter and you’ll soon recognize a pattern. Mental drain accompanies comparing your life with all of your friends and acquaintances. Recently, Christian hip-hop artist Shai Linne tweeted he had quit following another Christian hip-hop artist on Twitter. The reason was not a doctrinal disagreement or failed friendship. Linne quit following this other artist—-whom he greatly respects and admires—because he had noticed a sense of envy creep up after reading the tweets confirming the other’s success. Linne later explained in a video where the issue was discussed in detail, that he took this practical step to guard his heart.
An “out of sight, out of mind” approach worked for Linne. Could that work for you? Are we as quick to act, surgically removing sin or the temptation of sin associated with our use of social media? Furthermore, if we as adults are struggling with the sin of jealousy, envy, or covetousness, what is the use of social media doing to our kids?
Both Facebook and Twitter prohibit accounts for kids younger than 13. Yet according to a study published in November 2011, parents have assisted in setting up accounts on Facebook for children as young as 10. At stake is the care and nurture of our children's souls. If you have aided your child in setting up an account, violating the policies of these social media outlets, I strongly encourage you to close the account. This minimum age is in place for a reason.
But are even 14-year-olds ready for this responsibility? That’s something parents must decide for themselves, though I know many 30-somethings that still find the drain too much to bear. Those of us with teenagers must be steadfast in monitoring our children and ourselves to gauge how we're affected. All of us are at risk of falling prey to a silent stalker. What begins as a mild, almost unnoticeable, breach could result in an all-out assault on our soul. Our new identity wrought by the blood of Christ is too valuable to be eroded by the sins of jealousy, envy, or covetousness.
I’m not opposed to social networking; I use both Facebook and Twitter. But I have found that I, like Linne, have to guard myself from the potential for sin to rear its head. Before talking about the good that can come from these tools it seems prudent to shed light on the potential hazards for our children and ourselves. We, as believers, would do well to be ever mindful of our weaknesses and guard against them. Furthermore, we must be vigilant in teaching our children how to spot sin that could arise from unhealthy engagement in online social networks.
With our use of social media, we risk slighting the gospel by losing our identity. Whether we forget who we are or lie about who we are, we are misplacing our identity in Christ. For the believer, we’re told in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that the gospel changes us, that we are a new creation. If we’re drawn into sin and find that we envy the life of someone else, we’ve misplaced our identity. Is it lost on us that we have been instructed to put off the old and put on the new? Paul also writes about this identity change in Romans, Ephesians, and Colossians. It was a big deal to the apostle and should be to us too. A daily reminder of our identity in Christ would go a long way in grounding us when we catch up on our Twitter feed or peruse the news feed on Facebook.
Another issue that seems to beset us when using social media is a tendency to exaggerate or falsify our identity. We tend to forget who we are when we’re in front of the keyboard. Sometimes, to our shame, we inflate ourselves and our agendas, providing an unrealistic view into our lives. Paul, again, is helpful here. In 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, he tells us that God’s way is counter-intuitive. God’s “how to” for tweets might look something like, “I’m not smart, but it doesn’t matter,” or “I’m really weak, insignificant, and from the wrong side of the tracks, but God loves me.” Not the recipe for raking in thousands of followers, is it? The gospel is upside down to the world's standards. Remembering this would help us provide a more realistic view of our lives as well as encourage our brothers and sisters who forget their identity in Christ.
Daily, I’m encouraged by the tweets of my contemporary heroes of the faith through their fidelity to the gospel. On occasion, I lose sight of my identity in Christ and find myself longing for “just one day” in their shoes. However, daily, I’m reminded the gospel of Jesus Christ is stronger than my desires, and for that I’m grateful. There is no doubt that daily, our children need that same reminder.