Search “social media vitriol” and Google gives a return of about 2,240,000 results. You’ve probably muted at least one person or conversation on Facebook or Twitter, maybe even going so far as to “unfriend” someone if the content of their posts was just too much to handle in a given season of life—too much politics, too much Pinterest, too much profanity, too many false prophets. The anger and instant backlash that social media seems to create and thrive off of can be exhausting and soul crushing. And it’s a valid reason why many people simply choose to avoid social media altogether, or at least severely limit the amount of time they spend on social networks.
T.H.I.N.K. Before Posting
What’s a Christian to do, when one desires to use these technologies to connect with friends and family, or coworkers, yet avoid getting sucked into the whirlwind of negativity?
It may seem simplistic, but for me, it comes down to this: Think before you post.
I’ve seen posters for church youth rooms and decorated wooden signs for homes and family rooms that highlight the word THINK in all caps. Maybe you’ve seen something similar. Underneath the word THINK, there’s usually some fine print that breaks down each letter, asking readers to consider their thoughts, words and actions, and if they are: True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, or Kind. Think before you speak or act, these lovely bits of wall decoration encourage us.
St. Paul writes about it in Philippians this way:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8 ESV)
It’s a good prompt for in-person relationships, and it’s a good prompt for online social media posts, as well. THINK.
Analyze Your Content
Before you post on Facebook, or share your opinion in the comment section of an online news story, or retweet that viral video, ask yourself, is what I’m sharing true? That one little question might mean you don’t forward an article or image just because you like the way it makes you feel. You check the source and decide on the facts: Is it true?
Then ask yourself, is what I’m about to share helpful? Is it inspiring? There are so many things that get shared that are neither of those. Make what you share stand out from the social media crowd.
Perhaps the hardest question to wrestle with, when it comes to online sharing is, is it necessary? “No! None of it is necessary!” the anti-social media crowd will shout. I strongly disagree. A lot of it is necessary. But keep in mind your primary audience. When it comes to most social media, I’ve locked down my accounts to people I actually know in person. Sure, my friends lists include classmates from way back in elementary school, but my primary audience is family. I live a great distance from my parents and siblings, my in-laws, and extended family. Facebook is a simple way we can all check in with one another and share pictures, videos, and little snippets of daily life that would otherwise be missed. Is it absolutely necessary to post a quick snapshot of Sunday’s dinner menu or regular updates on how the backyard chickens are growing? Maybe not for one of my casual friends from way back. But as a way of making daily life in our household accessible to my dear family? Yes. Absolutely.
Now, is it necessary that I share my opinion on every single political or theological topic or social issue that crosses my social media newsfeed every day? A resounding, no. I am just not that important. And I hate to break it to you (not really), but you’re not that important either. I’ve considered framing Proverbs 17:28 and hanging it above my desk, as a reminder to keep my (oftentimes too numerous) opinions to myself: “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”
Be Kind to Others
Finally, ask yourself, is what you are posting kind? Martin Luther, in his explanation to the Eighth Commandment included in the Small Catechism, writes that we should “explain everything in the kindest way” when it comes to our neighbors’ actions. Even as we’re commanded to not bear false witness against others, we’re invited to intentionally seek ways to be kind toward others—to defend them and speak well of them.
I’m sure we can all think of a time when we’ve been the giver or receiver of the kind of false witness Luther is trying to help us avoid. But what about the relationships we have online? What about the things we post in our social networks? How might we keep the Eighth Commandment faithfully as we interact with our online neighbors?
Here, I will leave you with the simple test of whether or not you would say whatever it is you’re about to post directly to someone’s face. Whether you’re debating politics or theology, or disagreeing about a neighborhood issue in a local Facebook group, treat the conversations as if they are happening in person. See that person as an individual for whom Jesus died. Because Jesus died for them, and for you. Your debt has been paid by Him. Ultimately, it’s Jesus Christ alone who is true and honorable, just and pure, lovely, commendable, and excellent. He alone is worthy of praise! So love Jesus, and love your online neighbor.
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