For all that it helps keep family members who live across the country in touch with one another, social media causes its fair share of problems. The lack of fact checking has led to some already infamous messes for Facebook, and social media has been known to whip up digital mobs that can lead to terrible cyberbullying, threats and, in the worst cases, real-world violence or suicide. With this dark side of social media slowly coming to light, people are beginning to wonder if they should continue using social media. It may be convenient, but at what cost? Is it worth the risk? Should Christians use social media, or should they stay far away?
Using social media is not in and of itself a problem. The problems begin to appear depending on how a person uses social media and how often they log on to their account. Christians are told that they should not get so involved in this world that they lose track of God and the next world. Unfortunately, social media can cause a person to do exactly that. Internet addiction, especially its subset of social media addiction, has exploded in the last few years. People become more invested in their virtual lives than their real lives and become irritable, depressed, restless and anxious when they are unable to check their social media accounts. Addiction is, of course, something everyone wants to avoid, but it is especially problematic for Christians who may begin neglecting their spouse, children, church or even their relationship with God.
When considering whether or not Christians should be using social media, the amount of time spent on Instagram, Facebook or Tumblr is not the only problem. Christians need to consider what they are posting and reading on social media. Are they posting things that they can be proud of or are they posting pictures of themselves in overly sexualized positions? Do they post statuses and make comments that are in line with the Bible or are their social media accounts a tribute to themselves and their lives?
Social media makes narcissism easy. Behind every post is the assumption that someone is interested in that post. This means that when someone posts about how amazing their sandwich was at lunch, they subconsciously assume that someone is interested in reading about their sandwich. Since many people are on social media all but constantly, the person posting about their sandwich will probably get a like or a comment asking about where their sandwich was from or commiserating on how much the other person loves turkey on sourdough as well. This can easily become a feedback loop that convinces a person that everything they do is fascinating and that the world is always interested in their every move. This, however, is simply not true. It can also be problematic. Christians are taught to be humble and selfless. It is hard to be either of those when a person is convinced that they are the most fascinating creature on the planet and that everyone else is hanging on their every word.
Christians on social media also need to be very careful to keep the idea of “judge not, lest you be judged” at the forefront of their mind. Social media is infamous for whipping up virtual mobs that can and do rip a stranger’s character to shreds. Simply talk to anyone who was ever foolish or naïve enough to scroll down and read the YouTube comments under a video. Such judgments are easy to make on social media. There is a screen between the person judging and the person being judged which makes it feel anonymous. This can lead to people letting loose vitriol that they would never unleash in real life. Social media has cases of people being told to kill themselves because their stomach stuck out a bit in their dress or being told they are worthless and a waste of human skin because they liked the tweet of a politician. It can be a virtual lynch mob just waiting for an excuse to pounce. Find just about any Christian post on Tumblr if more proof is needed. The attacks can be vicious and are often personal.
Even if a Christian avoids getting swept up into the social media uproar, it can be very easy to use social media to one up friends and family members. If a cousin posts a picture and gets a dozen comments about how good she looks, a person may post their own picture to show that they actually look even better. They may also make some sort of backhanded comment about how quickly said cousin lost all that Christmas weight. Neither of these are a good Christian response to a person posing with their fiancé, yet they are painfully common on social media.
Social media can be a wonderful gift to Christians. It can enable them to share their faith with people they would otherwise never reach and to stay in touch with family members or friends that live in different cities or states. Social media can, however, act as a stumbling block to Christians. Social media begs a Christian to focus on this world and place themselves at the center of it. If a Christian can resist that siren call, there is no reason not to set up a few social media accounts. If the temptation to say “look at me” is too much, though, it is probably best that a person walks away from their account until they can remember what really, truly matters. Here’s a hint. It is not the number of likes on a post.