Social Media: Dangers, Toils, and Snares

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We’ve come a long way since 1985 when the first URL was registered to Symbolics.com.  To date, there are close to 450,000,000 domains in existence.  It’s hard to admit that the internet wasn’t readily available when I was a student at the University of Illinois.  I have to explain to students what a card catalog is and enviously explain trudging to the library to do actual research with actual books instead of copying and pasting bibliographies from Wikipedia 🙂

The internet has brought on many convenient resources, one of which I want to highlight–that of social media.  AIM, Xanga, Myspace, Blogger, Facebook, WordPress,Twitter, Linkedin, etc.  Even when it comes to ministry, these venues have become a powerful tool for connecting with people.  It has definitely helped my relationships with college students who see the other side of me with ridiculous statuses and Tweets.  It’s great for quick communication–which complements face-to-face communication.  There are many benefits that I won’t enumerate right now.

What concerns me are the dangers of having access to so many thousands and potentially millions of people.  I throw out some cautions to those whose lives are so dependent on the internet…probably 99.999999% of us.

Be careful what you write.
It’s easy to get caught up in the moment.  Whether elation or irritation, it can become easy material for statuses or blogs.  Much of it can be entertaining, thought provoking, or even damaging.  It’s complicated enough when we misspeak in front of one person or a small group.  But when your audience is anyone who happens across your page, then trouble begins.  Within the past couple of years especially, well-known Christian leaders have had the “put cyber foot in your mouth” syndrome.  Tweets condemning other Christian authors and pastors, or presumptuous attacks against our President.  Not the smartest things to do.

The Church has enough public relations gaffes to deal with outside of snarky internet remarks.  This only complicates and clouds the true message.  Please think of something when you post:  you can never take it back.  It will be a permanent record of our lapses in judgment.  A pastor friend of mine always reminded me of a story where a lady trashed the reputation of her minister.  She totally slandered him and made things difficult for his marriage, family, and ministry.  Months later, she visited him and admitted that she had been lying and wanted to apologize.  He took her to the top of a hill and handed her a pillow.  He instructed her to rip it open and release all the feathers in it as the wind blew them everywhere.  He told her to go collect every feather—an impossible task.  His point was, she could apologize, and that he could forgive her, but she could never bring back everything that he had lost.

Be careful what you read
It’s easy to think of ourselves better than we ought.  But even among Christ followers, we have the sensationalists, gossip-mongers, spotlight hogs, and drama chasers who concoct their Christian version of the National Enquirer.  And too often, in the same vain as an insecure middle school student, will make themselves look better by dragging other people down.  There may very well be truth in what they’re saying but definitely well insulated to drive home their points.  While Christian leaders target segments of the population as having an insidious agenda…who are we trying to kid???  EVERYONE has an agenda.  And too often these personal agendas take center stage for a crowd with an insatiable appetite for “news.”  While people accept it as fact, they are unaware of the writer’s private axe to grind, competitive flaws, over or underdeveloped opinions, and bloated egos.  Some attempts to protect the Body are nothing less than adult fits and tantrums.

I hear friends and colleagues mention something that someone else supposedly said.  Consider these things…

  • Did you read the person’s actual words?  Or were they blogs/Tweets/articles about the person?
  • If they were the person’s original quotes did you read them in context?

PLEASE, let’s not be contributors to the spread of misinformation.  Even if we’re dealing with facts, we don’t need to feed the frenzy.  We don’t need to fixate on the latest fallen Christian leaders, the ministries accused of misappropriating resources, or the hottest and latest emergent speaker to stray from truth.  If we sincerely are trying to find information that would protect people we care about, then let’s get the facts straight before we launch into character assaults.   Let’s be the Body of Christ.

  • Let’s not shoot our own.  Instead of gossiping, let’s…pray.  We need to have productive discussions that further God’s Kingdom, not provide more fodder for the Colbert Report and Bill Maher. “…if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself” (Galatians 6:1).
  • Let’s not shoot off our mouths.  It’s easy to fly off the handle and retaliate, especially when we’ve been wronged.   It’s easy to react instead of respond.  And for the moment, it feels better to throw a stone instead of turn the other cheek.  But we are warned “…be quick to listen, slow to speak (or type), and slow to get angry” (James 1:19).
  • Let’s not shoot those we’re trying to reach.  Our mission is not to be right or justified, but rather to be obedient.  This was the annoying summer of the homophobic chicken and the gay cookie.  Christian responses were less than godly.  We will never win the culture wars through the media.  The Body must learn to respond the way Christ did:  with meekness, tenderness, respect, and brokenness.  “And if you are asked about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But you must do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak evil against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ” (1 Peter 3:15-16).
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