Earlier this week, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill to protect children from the potentially harmful impacts of social media. The Kids Online Safety Act of 2022 includes five major elements:
- Social media companies would be required to provide privacy options, the ability to disable addictive features and allow users to opt-out of recommendations like pages or other videos to “like.” It would also make the strongest privacy protections the default.
- The bill would give parents tools to track time spent in the app, limit purchases, and help to address addictive usage.
- It would require social media companies to prevent and mitigate harm to minors, including self-harm, suicide, eating disorders, substance abuse, sexual exploitation, and unlawful products for minors like alcohol.
- Social media companies would be required to give kids’ data to academic and private researchers. The scientists would use that data to do more research on what harms children on social media and how to prevent that harm.
- Social media companies would be required to use a third party to perform independent reviews to quantify the risk to minors, compliance with the law, and whether the company is “taking meaningful steps to prevent those harms.”
Whether the bill will be something Christians should support remains to be seen. But as Dr. Dave Anderson, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, told ABC News, it’s an attempt to apply what social science research has taught us about the potential harms of social media. “I think politicians are taking what we know from the science and saying, ‘How do we build in these safeguards?’”, says Anderson.
Questions for evaluation
While it’s important to build safeguards on social media for our children, every Christian adult should also consider what guardrails they are putting up for themselves. Listed below are 14 questions for self-reflection that we can ask ourselves about our social media engagement.
1. The time use question: In 2020, the average adult spent three hours a day on social media. Do we spend more daily time on social media than we do on spiritual practices, such as prayer and Bible reading?
2. The best use question: Even if the time we spend on social media is not out of proportion to other activities, we should still consider how we want to spend our days. Is our social media usage an example of following the command in Ephesians 5:16 to make the “best use of the time”?
3. The bubble question: Social media allows us to choose who we interact with, allowing us the ability to create the online equivalent of gated communities. What types of interactions are you missing out on by engaging only within your social media bubble?
4. The corrupt company question: In light of question 3, what kind of bubble are you creating? Who are you surrounding yourself with online? Bad company — even disguised with Christian language — that will corrupt (1 Cor. 15:33)? Or good company that will build up?
5. The looking with lust question: The predominance of personal photos on social media can allow us to get an intimate glimpse not only into people’s lives but often of people’s bodies. What precautions are we taking to prevent ourselves from looking with lust on the images we see in private (Matt. 5:28)?
6. The one another question: Throughout Scripture there are more than 50 “one another” commands that apply to our fellow believers (for example, the commands to “encourage one another and build up one another” in 1 Thessalonians 5:11). How are you using social media to fulfill those commands?
7. The probability of cancellation question: Cancel culture refers to the modern practice of withdrawing support for someone (i.e., “canceling them”) after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. What are the chances that you could be “canceled” for something you post on social media?
8. The loving your enemy question: Jesus commands us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:43). Do we use our social media accounts to identify the “enemies” we need to pray for?
9. The foolish controversies question: In Titus 3:9, Paul tells us to avoid foolish controversies because they are unprofitable and useless. Does our social media usage increase the likelihood that we will engage in such foolish controversies?
10. The eulogy question: Imagine that if at your funeral someone who despises you was able to give a eulogy that consisted of them reading 10 items you posted on social media. Would you have any concerns or fear of embarrassment if that were to happen?
11. The anonymity question: Many people on social media (especially on platforms like Twitter) choose to remain anonymous. But Jesus says “there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open” (Luke 8:17). If you have an anonymous account, would you be ashamed if your identity was revealed? (Alternative question: Should we be engaging with those who choose to hide their identity while attacking those whose identities are known?)
12. The unwholesome talk question: Paul commands us by saying, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph. 4:29). Do we use social media to engage in unwholesome talk?
13. The true and noble question: Additionally, Paul says, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). Does our social media usage help us to think about what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy?
14. The glory of God question: Paul also says, whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:13). Can we honestly say that all that we do on social media is glorifying God?