How should Christians use social media? Amy Whitfield, Director of Communications at Southeastern Seminary, tackled this question in a recent interview with Steve Noble about an article she wrote for The Exchange.
Follow this link to listen to the interview, or you can read highlights from the conversation below:
Why are we so addicted to speaking self-righteously on social media?
“I have a megaphone when I put something out on Facebook or on Twitter, but I don’t feel it in the moment. If I’m sitting in a room full of people, and I have a particular opinion about something but I know that it’s bombastic, or I know it could be hurtful, and I’m looking at everyone, then I know. I have some sort of check in my conscience that triggers me.
“But if I’m just sitting by myself and I have this feeling, emotion of rage or whatever, and all I have to do is pull my phone out and type it really quick and send it off, I don’t have that check as built in. So unless I’m making the disciplined choice to notice it, think about it every day, that threshold is so low. And once it’s out there, it’s out there. It’s public record….
“If you take the number of people who follow you or the number of people you’re friends with on Facebook, and you say to yourself, ‘If all those people were sitting in a room and I had a microphone, would I say this right now?’ And if the answer is no, or if the answer is even ‘I’m not sure,’ then that’s a sign you need to stop.
“But it’s really tough. We want to be a part of something. We see things flying around; we want to join in. And we start to think, ‘I can’t skip this. I have to say my piece.’ Because I have this tool right there.”
I have a megaphone when I put something out on Facebook or Twitter, but I don’t feel it in the moment.
What is FOMO?
“FOMO is an acronym for the fear of missing out. Most of the time this gets thought of in the Instagram age. The idea is that you’re looking at other people’s Instagram photos and you see their perfect life. Everything is great, and you think, ‘I’m missing out. I’m not experiencing that.’ Or, maybe you’re seeing things on Facebook that you weren’t invited to, and you’re saying, ‘I’m missing out.’
“So you have this constant [fear] because we can see into each other’s lives so much. It’s different from ten years ago when you were just living in your world. You’re seeing into other people’s lives, and you’re noticing what you don’t have all the time…. Just remember: The lenses on those phones are only so large, and there’s a lot of stuff outside the frame that’s usually a big mess….
“As I was thinking about [FOMO], I extended that [thought]. Why do Christians miss civil discourse sometimes? What is it? You don’t want to say that we have something in us that wants to be mean all the time.
“One of the things I felt like I saw was that people were seeing conversations and they don’t want to miss out on them. They want to be funny. They want to be impressive. They like the idea of a ‘mic drop’…. So I started thinking… this fear of missing out is not just playing into jealousy over someone’s life. It’s playing into, ‘I can’t let a conversation pass me by, so I’m going to throw my jabs in there as well.'”
Social media is one of the places where our ugliest selves come out.
How can social media serve as a mirror?
“Social media is one of the places where our ugliest selves come out. It can be a real mirror sometimes to say, ‘Why did I say that? Why did I do that?’ You have to remember, people are watching us all the time.”
How can we move forward in a Christ-like way?
“The first thing we have to do, which seems almost overly simplistic, is to wake up to what [social media] is. We can very quickly sign up for an account, and say, ‘Oh this is fun,’ and we’re really not stepping back and seeing the ramifications. It’s a tool. It’s not everything.
“The truth is, [social media] is us. We’re interacting with other people just like we do in public ways; it just happens to be bigger. So it’s a tool. It’s a forum. And it has tremendous power….
“Second, recognize that we’re supposed to be a people of hope. That doesn’t mean that everything’s great all the time. That doesn’t mean that we’re only putting pictures of gourmet food and never showing what’s outside the frame. We’re going to have bad days, and we can be honest about that.… But hope means we keep going because we know there’s a bigger story. That’s part of what we’re supposed to be telling the world.”