“Oh hey, let’s take a selfie so I can post this on Facebook!” has become a common phrase in our culture. I joined the social media giant with its conception in 2004. Well, it started in 2003 being available to only a few Ivy League schools, then launched on multiple campuses nationwide in 2004, which is when I joined. At first I appreciated that it was a college only thing and that I could keep in touch with friends from other colleges. I never imagined everyone and their mother, literally, would one day be on it. And again, at first, it did not have a thing such as “newsfeed.” It just had people’s pages. If you wanted to see what someone was up to, you searched for that friend and then went to that person’s page. Simple!
I’ll never forget the day newsfeed was born, nor will anyone who was on Facebook at the time. It was an overwhelming day for everyone, including Facebook! That also marked the day Mark Zuckerberg was credited by the massive Facebook users as the creator of Facebook. That day we all received a personal message of apology and instruction about how to filter what information of ours is shared in newsfeed. Thanks Mark! Also, I have to say that a couple years later I was having some technical difficulty on Facebook planning our high school class reunion and messaged Mark Zuckerberg personally (which you cannot do anymore). He personally replied back to me and put someone on the issue immediately. Thanks Again Mr. Zuckerberg! So despite how movies and the media may portray him, I truly believe his intention with Facebook is to connect people, plain and simple.
However, I cannot tell you how often I speak with people in the church who struggle with comparing themselves to others and Facebook feeds this temptation. People just do not know what to do with Facebook. How do we as Christians approach this social media giant, and others, and use it as a useful tool in today’s society? We want to be in control of our social media. We do not want it to control us. While I will mainly speak on Facebook, because that is the social media most people are familiar with, obviously much of what is discussed here can be applied to other social media sites as well.
For years, I have struggled, discussed, prayed, and even took a six month fast from Facebook while seeking God that He would have reign over my whole life, even social media. We cannot just view certain tools as evil without seeking God to see how and if He desires us to use them. What would have happened if we did that with TV? Or what if we had done that with radio? The Jesus Film, Christian radio, and other methods would have not been able to reach others for Christ. So let’s start with the positives first.
Facebook is great for keeping in touch with people all over the world. I literally have friends all over the world and love that I can get in touch with them quickly through Facebook. I also love following missionary friends via Facebook. If they change their email or address, I might not know that, but if they change anything on Facebook, I still have access to their most updated information. Facebook also is a great tool for people to share photos of their families and kids so other family members and grandparents far away get to see what’s going on in their kids and grandkids lives. Inviting people through events and forming groups on Facebook also is quick and very easy to do! Businesses can also easily reach people through Facebook. So it’s good for sharing pictures, keeping in touch, invites, and groups. What could possibly be wrong with it?
Well the trouble comes when it takes up too much time, leaves us feeling worthless, or feeds our ego to the point where we live more through the social media than we do real life. We cannot compare our mundane everyday lives to the highlight reel of others’ lives that we read on our newsfeed. That’s obviously not a fair assessment, but unconsciously, it’s what we do. Also, we cannot post things and base our value on how many “likes” we get from what we post. Are we living for the approval of others or for the approval of God? If for the approval of God, well then whether people like or dislike our posts should be irrelevant. Then what about the temptation to stalk others? Yes, like your ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend or people you have no business even being in touch with. Yet because you couldn’t say no to their friend request, you’re now their friend on Facebook, and have easy access to all sorts of pictures of them that you really have no business going through.
ABC News reported the following in 2012: “A third of all divorce filings in 2011 contained the word “Facebook,” according to Divorce Online. And more than 80 percent of U.S. divorce attorneys say social networking in divorce proceedings is on the rise, according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.” That’s no joke folks! After hearing something like this and being overwhelmed by having too many so called “friends” on Facebook, I de-friended nearly 600 “friends,” many of whom were guys. Pretty much the only males I am friends with on Facebook now are family members. I love my man and my marriage too much to risk it. A large amount of those 600 “friends” I de-friended were just acquaintances anyway, or people I was really never friends with in person.
But should everyone de-friend all of their friends of the opposite sex? Well, it depends on your use of social media. I have come to realize that you have to choose how you will use certain social media. You cannot use one device for everything and be effective at everything. Some use their Facebook account for ministry, so they want many friends because they post a lot of Scripture and encouraging words. They want a large audience to receive that. Yet you will not see those same people posting very personal pictures of themselves and their family regularly. Another person uses their Facebook account to post and share political views or opinions on hot cultural topics of the day. While no one would disallow this, it seems that anyone of a different opinion will probably just de-friend or unfollow them, and therefore never see their posts again. So they would really only be reaching those with a similar opinion than them. Then, if that same person posted anything about their family, daily life, etc, it would only go to those who have a similar political opinion as them. This brings us to our third major use of Facebook; using it for sharing photos and comments about one’s daily life. Literally, these people share life news updates, like what they do or any news they have to announce.
Yet I believe I am seeing a fourth category as well, those who “live” through social media. These people document everything seemingly for the purpose of making their life seem more exciting than it is. Or maybe they’re more vulnerable on Facebook than they are in real life. I really do not understand this, but it seems to be like an addiction. Perhaps they get a sort of high from sharing things and getting so many likes etc. Then they get addicted to that feeling and keep posting to get more and more likes and comments etc. Yes, these people are clearly seeking something other than the Lord to satisfy them.
So this is where we get into trouble. People forget that Facebook is not everything and they need to choose their use for it. When you try to make it everything, be it your source of updates on friends’ lives, how you find out others’ political beliefs, how you share all of your thoughts, or even how you gain acceptance in the world, then you set yourself up for failure and disappointment. Facebook is not a god and it cannot satisfy like God can. It cannot meet all of one’s needs.
I have chosen to use my Facebook for mainly just sharing photos with family and friends. Therefore, I do not have aspirations of having thousands of friends because I do not want thousands of people knowing what I ate for dinner or where I live or what my front yard looks like. I have found that voicing my opinion on hot topics or political issues via Facebook has nearly always resulted in someone taking it the wrong way and using it as an opportunity to slam me in some way on Facebook in such a way that they would never dare say such things to my face. In other words, posting or commenting on such topics has rarely been effective in my experience. I would hope that others with perhaps a better platform than me would have more success in this area. I have personally found it just is not my call, yet I pray for those who do have such a call! Go bravely dear friend!
I will also say that when I was not on Facebook for nearly six months I did not miss it or miss out on the news of other people like I thought I would. While my parents have joined Facebook, my brother, God love him, has still never joined. And I love that he has not shriveled up and died because of it. I also noticed during my Facebook fast that Facebook is not for everyone and many people simply do not check it regularly. In the same way, not everyone checks their phone, voicemails, emails, or whatever at the same frequency. So we’re not avoiding the world by not being on Facebook. We’re just not communicating via Facebook with those on Facebook when we’re not on Facebook.
As a Christian, if we truly want to control our social media and not have it control us, we have to implement some boundaries. I used to check every person who liked something I posted, and secretly like them a little more since they approved of something I posted. Then I realized how incredibly wrong that is! You see if we’re living for God’s approval, we should not care how many or who likes or dislikes what we post. So I now try to only check notifications if people comment, as opposed to pay any attention at all about the number or who likes what I do.
Also, I think we can all agree we should limit the time we spend on Facebook and social media. We cannot just decide since we’re bored so we’ll check newsfeed. I regularly log out of Facebook on my phone so I will not be tempted to check it every time something happens. Therefore the goal is when I log in, beforehand I decide what I am going to check (perhaps just notifications and maybe the top 3 items in newsfeed). Checking any items in newsfeed is hard to limit though, so it’s best to decide to check your mother’s page or your sister-in-law’s page to see what your nieces are up to or something like that and then be done. Otherwise you end up being overwhelmed by the news of everyone all over the world! And that inevitable feeling of comparing your life to theirs creeps in leaving you with a feeling of worthlessness. Or perhaps on the other end, it creeps in leaving you with a false sense of pride. Both refuse to find our identity in Christ. I’ll also try and decide beforehand when I am going to be done so I do not wake up from of my Facebook stupor hours later wondering where the time went.
Lastly I will say this. We could all probably afford to unfollow and de-friend some people! We should de-friend people we’re tempted to stalk! We should reject new friend requests if we don’t have a good reason to be their friend. If they don’t need to know more about us and we definitely have no reason to know more about them, we should feel the freedom to not be their friend on Facebook. It’s ok. And that close friend who has no filter of what they post, we should unfollow them. That way we will not see all that they post, but we will still be able to contact them and tag them when necessary.
If you struggle with comparing yourself to others, maybe you need to unfollow those friends who you’re most tempted to be envious of. Jesus said, “If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:30NASB). Again, do not be so prideful thinking those sins are below you. Yet also do not be ashamed that you’re susceptible to those sins (1 Corinthians 10:13). Instead, be honest about where you’re tempted and make no provision for the flesh (Romans 13:14).
I am very involved in social media with a Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin, WordPress, YouTube, and even Google Apps accounts. Do I feel it enhances my life to the point I recommend everyone do it all? Absolutely not. Yet with my age and my profession I feel it’s wise for me to stay up to date with the latest gadgets for the purpose of reaching others for Christ, be it whatever form that takes. Yet again, because no one can do everything, obviously certain accounts I am more active on than others. Certain tools I find more useful for certain things. Because Twitter is more public, I do not post a lot of personal photos on that, but use it more for ministry purposes. How people choose to use their social media will differ greatly based on their needs.
Most of all we must pray and be thoughtful about our use of social media. Remember, we’re living for God’s approval and not the world’s. Do not blindly let it take over your time, your marriage, your life. Instead, take control and put some boundaries on who you will be friends with, how you will use social media, and what you will refuse to allow it to do in your life. Just as we practice self-control with our use of TV, music, etc., so we should practice self-control with our use of social media, for the glory of God.