The liabilities and misuses of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) have been the subjects of a good bit of recent attention. Twitter, a social media platform that allows users to post and read 280-character comments about anything and everything, especially has been in for loud criticism. It seems to specialize as an avenue for the expression of outrage and slander.
In the wake of its use to spread a misleading narrative about a controversy related to a recent pro-life march in Washington, D.C., many journalists and public figures have apologized for their errant “hot takes”. Others have said that they were going to shut down their accounts, or curtail or change their usage of the medium; while still others have spoken in detail about what they think it is good, and not good, at communicating.
The liabilities and misuses of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) have been the subjects of a good bit of recent attention. Twitter, a social media platform that allows users to post and read 280-character comments about anything and everything, especially has been in for loud criticism. It seems to specialize as an avenue for the expression of outrage and slander. All this reminds us that the Bible is way ahead of addressing the latest controversies of the day. Two thousand years ago, James warned us that “the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way” (3:5-10, NASB).
It turns out social media simply is another way of exercising our tongues, either for good or for ill. Social media amplifies the reach of our tongues. It lets our private thoughts circle the globe and brings into public discussion conversations and statements that once would have been contained in a small circle of friends bantering in a coffee shop. That means it has huge potential for evil, because we are sinners, and as James reminds us, the tongue is hard to tame.
And yet there are many things about social media that are incredibly positive and helpful. I use social media to keep track of family, friends, and colleagues in ways I simply couldn’t have just 15 years ago. I use it to get an idea of the pulse of “what’s going on” and people’s attitudes and opinions about the various issues of the day. I use it to alert me to news events and stories, and especially to lead me to good reading. I also use it for accountability to RTS — to let the people I serve know what I am doing in fulfillment of my responsibilities (where I am speaking and what I am writing, reading, learning or doing). I also use it to promote the ministry and mission of RTS and to extend the influence of my colleagues.
In light of all this, I’ve tried to adopt some guidelines for my personal usage of social media.
1. One thing I want to do is to be as positive and constructive as possible. I try to remain in the posture of commending Christ, the truth and the gospel. I want to relentlessly encourage, edify and inform, even though the most popular clickbait is usually negative, critical, controversial and polemical.
2. I also make a studied practice of ignoring social media users who attempt to foment strife (“trolls”), who deal in untruths, mock others or seek to harm the reputations of honorable people. One thing I ask myself is, “How much responsibility does this person who is saying something on social media have in the rest of his life?”
3. I deliberately don’t give inordinate attention to people whose only “platform” is social media and who elsewhere have little accountability or responsibility.
4. A significant service I want to provide is to point people to wise and sound people and resources. Social media is not conducive to serious thought, debate or discussion because it has a hard time with context, and lacks the constraints that come with personal interaction (people will say things while alone populating social media with their opinions that they would lack the courage to say to a person face to face).
5. In fact, all of us ought to aim to treat people on social media like we would treat them in person, being and speaking the same way on social media that we do in the context of life, family, church and ministry.
6. We should deliberately aim to be the same person online and offline.
7. Above all, I want to exalt Christ, the Scriptures, God’s grace and truth, and the gospel in what I say and how I say it.
I hope this will help you as you think through how to use social media.