Just over ten years ago, most people hadn’t heard of Facebook. Myspace was just taking off and the world of social media was uncharted territory. Now it’s pervasive in everything that we do. You can’t buy dog food or gas for your car without seeing an invitation to like the product page on Facebook or follow the Twitter handle.
So how do we as Christians engage this brave new world of social media? After looking online and seeing so many faux pas and mistakes made by those who name the name of Christ, I’ve come up with “10 Commandments” of social media for Christians.
- Pause before you publish
The one thing you must do before you do anything else in the world of social media is to stop and think before you click “Enter” and send that post or tweet or Instagram photo. Think through the ramifications of what you are about to send to the entire Internet.
Your friends and people you don’t even know have a window into this part of your world. Where most communication is private, this is public in a way that wasn’t public 20 years ago.
More often than not, we forget that the words and pictures we send are going into a vast public record and open to the peering eyes of our bosses, co-workers, church members, potential employers, family, and friends.
Think about the words that you are about to type and send. It can go a long way in maintaining your online and offline reputation.
- World Star Hip Hop is not a credible news source
One of the things to think about is whether you are passing on credible information. Sometimes our hearts are already open to something that is more than likely a lie. We see the latest expos and what it really exposes is the bent of our heart.
Newsflash: Celebrity gossip is not news. So many rumors can be circulated in a matter of hours, and no one stops to check the facts but just publishes this stuff like it came from the mouth of God.
We have snopes.com now. There is no excuse. In this age where a story can spread faster than you can say “Ferguson,” we need to discover whether or not it is true.
Sometimes a story is just satire. Sometimes it’s for real. You need to know the difference.
- Improve your offline to online ratio
I see some people on Facebook no matter what time of day it is. The phone is probably the first thing they pick up in the morning and the last thing they hold at night.
I wouldn’t be surprised if some people slept with their phone. These are the kind of folks who obnoxiously text and tweet while having dinner. This is not the person you want to be.
As a follower of Jesus, you must place a higher value on your offline relationships than online. Your online relationships are flat and cannot see into the depths of who you are, and vice versa.
Technology has the privilege of giving you the ability to edit the parts of your life you don’t want others to see. Not so with real-life flesh and blood relationships.
The more time you spend with others, the more time you see their real authentic selves, and the more time they see your real authentic self as well.
This is a good thing. This is why God created Eve for Adam. This is why the “one anothers” of the church exist. We are called to live in community together, and online interaction cannot replace that.
- Would you want your grandma to see this?
First of all, as a Christian, some pictures don’t need to be taken. Yeah, that skimpy outfit just should not have been worn, much less photographed.
Second of all, some pictures don’t need to be published to the rest of the world. As a follower of Jesus, you are not just representing yourself, but the agenda of the King and His kingdom. You are representing your local and universal church family.
And if these things don’t strike a chord with you: You are also representing your own family.
Before you publish a picture, think to yourself: “Would I want my grandma to see this?”
Now if your grandma is living foul, then this doesn’t work, but if you’ve got one of those old, church mother, saved and sanctified grandmas, this can be very effective.
You wouldn’t want that grandma to see you getting “turnt” in the club or in a bikini gyrating with some dude.
- If you can’t say it in person, then don’t say it
For some reason, people are bolder online. It’s not just the anonymity. This sometimes happens when people know each other. I think it has to do with the lack of proximity.
By being far away from each other physically, we are emboldened to say things we wouldn’t say if we were looking at someone directly in the eyes.
Remember this: If you can’t say it in person, don’t say it. There is nothing courageous about being an online prophet and an in-person yes-man.
Just because you get an amen corner online doesn’t make you bold. Real boldness is speaking the truth even when you don’t have an amen corner at all.
- Pass on being passive-aggressive
Have you ever seen these posts that are directed to someone and no one at the same time? These are called “sub-statuses” or “subtweets,” and they are full of bitterness, anger, sometimes sarcasm.
They point out anonymous people’s faults. Sometimes they make you wonder if their online temper tantrum or cutting remark is targeting you. That’s not how saints of God air their grievances.
Private grievances need to be handled in private. Public grievances need to be handled in public.
Even if you are going to express your frustration, you at least need to name the person you are frustrated with. The Bible commands us to speak the truth in love.
Being passive-aggressive in your posts is anything but truthful or loving.
- Leave the doomsday prophets in the Old Testament
As followers of Jesus, we are called to share good news.
Often when I look at people’s Facebook pages and tweets, I am surprised when I see the latest gloom-and-doom prophecies about how the nation is going down the tubes or how Black America is doomed to fail.
A lot of what I see is just negative events or news articles.
Yes, there is a place for being realistic, but spreading negativity shouldn’t be our default. Our default is joy. Our default is peace. Our default is hope.
The things we repost and retweet need to be aligned with what we value as the people of God. They should speak to the wider world of our orientation toward the kingdom and the hope we have in Christ.
- Bible thumping doesn’t work (in person or online)
Have you ever talked to someone and the answer to every question was a Bible verse? These are the kind of people who figure out what kind of cereal to get with a Bible verse. And if it’s a religious question, they don’t actually answer the question, but just spew out Bible verses.
Don’t be that person.
Yes, we believe the Bible to be true in all that it affirms, but we also need to be aware of the world we live in.
Commenting on people’s posts with Bible verses that are most of the time out of context does nothing to win people over to Christ or a Christian perspective.
It’s best to meet people where they are and then explain what the Bible says about a subject than to proof text verses and expect to persuade people to your perspective.
- Respect the Internet
The Internet has specific guidelines when it comes to communicating.
ALL CAPS USUALLY INDICATES ANGER. Now I wasn’t angry there, but sometimes we put all caps on things where we shouldn’t and unintentionally communicate anger.
Because Internet conversations are in writing, they don’t always convey the intended meaning. What we intended as a joke can potentially be seen as a threat or an insult. Emoticons can help.
The key is that as followers of Jesus, we don’t want to look like noobs on the Internet, and most importantly, we don’t want to offend people unnecessarily.
The Gospel is already offensive, and if people know that we are Christians, they may be offended by our very beliefs. We don’t want to offend them unnecessarily any other way.
- Keep Jesus at the center
Last but not least, keep Jesus at the center of everything you do online. If being on Facebook or Twitter is becoming more of an addiction and less of a purposeful conversation tool, then drop them.
If you are unsure of whether to post something or respond to a comment, then think about the person and the work of Christ.
You will never go wrong by keeping Jesus as a model for your social media interaction.