I’m a pretty active and avid social media user. I’m not a part of the generation that has grown up with social media all around, but I did get my first email account when I was 12. I used it to message my cousins and other close friends before I was allowed to get a Facebook account. I know the power of social media. I’ve seen it used for good as a means to fund a child’s dream or help a family down on its luck. I’ve seen communities form and friendships flourish. But I’ve also seen it create rifts. With such a powerful tool, sin enters. What is good can also sour.
We Christians know that when we witness to Christ’s resurrection and salvation, we do so with the help of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we need to be aware that our social media use affects our witness. Here are three tips for making sure your social media posts are used for God’s glory.
We live in an epidemic of misinformation. Take what happened with the COVID-19 pandemic, for example. Within the first few weeks, there were posts saying things like how the pandemic was a sign of the end times, how the shutdowns were allowing the lizard people to control the government, and how ibuprofen can make COVID symptoms worse. I’ll admit, while I like to think I am pretty media savvy (with having studied media literacy for my undergraduate degree), I hid all the ibuprofen.
This begs the question, how do we become more media literate?
Start by slowing down. Before sending out a rapid-fire response to a message, take some time to sit with it. Be patient when it comes to media; the quick pace of the media and news cycles has yielded disastrous results. Follow the links to claims made in the article, post, or response and find corroborating sources. Make certain you aren’t reacting to something that isn’t true or likely isn’t true. As believers, we need to be mindful to keep the Eighth Commandment, which tells us, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). Luther's Small Catechism puts it in even simpler terms: “explain everything in the kindest way.” Know your own biases, and be cognizant of the biases of posters, sources, and authors of material you read. Before you respond or react, make certain it is true.
Talk Less, Smile More
While your thoughts and feelings are important, especially on big topics and news, they aren’t always beneficial. I don’t mean that your thoughts on a topic don’t provide wisdom, but if you speak before you think, you may say something that makes you look foolish later on. Work through your own thoughts and feelings outside of the internet before posting. Again, as in the media literacy portion of this post, be patient and pay attention to your own biases. Do you want this to be true because it makes people with opposite views to your own look worse? Or are you sharing and responding out of integrity? What does the Bible say about this topic or your reaction to the situation?
Your viewership of content and your likes/reacts have power as well, so while you may feel that not responding to something is the same as not contributing to the dialogue or being complacent, that is not true. When something pleases you, make sure to like or favorite the content. When you’re not happy, dislike it. Social media platforms have many different react buttons—use them!
Ask yourself, who will think less of me for posting this? This is a game I’m constantly playing when I post. I don’t ever want to make it so that my witness to Christ is seen as performative or that I don’t think for myself. There have been many times I have wanted to post my opinions but did not because I knew that it would make it harder for me to talk about Christ to specific people later. Sometimes it’s worth it. I believe I am called to speak out and stand up against injustice, against mistreatment, and for mercy. The question I must ask myself is, how do I do that without alienating people whose souls I care about? Again, it’s about slowing down, being patient, and thinking through the consequences.
Recently, I’ve started using my voice on my own social media platforms to encourage people to come to an understanding of one another. I've noticed that people often create a character to help them understand those who have opposite opinions from their own, instead of actually learning about and from the other side. Although I don’t often share my opinion, I do ask people to share, and then I share those opinions anonymously. I use discernment about sharing antagonistic comments or sensitive material. I have found that people are grateful for the place to share and explore without being too overwhelmed. I don’t exactly know where it’s going or how to push it further to make a difference, but I am looking to steward my online presence better than I was.
We can all be better at using our social media accounts in ways that curb the spread of misinformation, connect us with others, and are more pleasing to the Lord.