Love it or hate it, social media has become enmeshed with virtually every aspect of our digital lives. With the advent of the smartphone and smartphone apps, and relatively new services like Facebook Pay and WhatsApp among other, we are becoming more invested in and more dependent on these social platforms and their menu of features.
And despite our familiarity with and constant use of social media, we are still learning how to use each respective platform. Stated differently: we’re still learning how to behave on them. By and large, online dialogue continues to grow increasingly reckless, unkind, and contentious, on the one hand, and infantile, vapid, and self-absorbed on the other.
But since social media is clearly here to stay, it is imperative that the people of God commit ourselves to the wise, charitable, and productive use of these platforms.
Let every person be slow to . . . tweet?
While I am of the (strong) opinion that we should be less engaged on social media than we currently are, the fact is most people spend a significant amount of time on their preferred platform(s) scrolling and posting, tweeting and retweeting. There is no mass social media exodus anywhere on the horizon.
So, if we’re committed to staying, if we’re committed to the continued use of these social platforms, how can we avoid the recklessness and performative self-expression that so often spoils our online dialogue?
Here are three important questions that we should ask ourselves before posting anything online.
- Why am I saying this?
Before finally clicking “post” or “tweet,” we should stop ourselves and ask this very simple question: “why?”
Our motives, the why behind what we post or share, matter. And on platforms where contentiousness, conflict, and impulsiveness are rewarded, we are being constantly encouraged to skip this first step of pausing and considering the motives of our heart. Wisdom is being forfeited for clicks.
Why do we post cropped and filtered photos of our quiet time on Instagram? Is it because we want “to be seen” by others like Jesus warns against in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:1)? Or why do we feel the need to join in with angry online outbursts? Could it be that, instead of “walking by the Spirit,” we’re “carrying out the desires of the flesh” like Paul warned against in his letter to the Galatians (5:16)? If we believe Jesus’ words, that “from the heart comes” all kinds of evil (Matthew 15:19), we would be wise to stop and examine the motives of our heart before posting.
- What do I hope to accomplish by saying this?
I’m under no illusion that all our social media interactions should aspire ultimately to change the world. If that is the aim of our online life, we are sure to be severely disappointed. But there should be some intended purpose behind what we choose to share, from our light-hearted posts to those that are evangelistic.
For Christians, we can use a simple rubric to help answer this second question: will this post glorify Christ, or will it glorify me? Will it bring about good, or will it lead to ruin?
Our task as Christians is summed up well by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31, emphasis added). For those of us who are active online, does our tweeting and posting accomplish the task that Paul charges us with in this text? Or does it fuel controversy, stoke rage, stir up jealousy and contempt, or, in some other way, produce the chaff described in Psalm 1? Do our online words speak life or death (Proverbs 18:21)?
- How can I say this in a way that is truthful, charitable, and productive?
There is no shortage of “fake news,” hateful “hot takes,” and fruitless discussion taking place online these days. But that doesn’t mean that we must take part in any of it. In fact, Christians are those whose “speech” should “always be gracious, seasoned with salt,” the apostle Paul says (Colossians 4:6). What does that mean for the things we post on social media?
This final question is a safeguard that commits us, as much as possible, to craft our social media posts so that they are truthful, loving, and productive, in that they aim to produce good or simply to move a conversation forward in a charitable way. This means that there is no place for “owning” our so-called opponents, for peddling falsities, or engaging in shameful and degrading conversations. To this, with the apostle Paul, we might say: such talk “is not suitable and should not even be heard of among [us]” (Eph. 5:3-4).
If we can’t, in good conscience, answer each of these three questions with sufficiently godly answers, we should be content with saying nothing. But if we can, we should feel free to click “tweet” or “post.”
Blessed is the one
In a very real way, social media can function as the “company of mockers” mentioned in Psalm 1 and can serve as our “walk[ing] in step with the wicked” and “stand[ing] in the way that sinners take” (Psa. 1:1). But it doesn’t have to be this way. And it shouldn’t.
“Blessed is the one,” the psalmist says, “whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night” (Psa. 1:1, 2). May we be the people who delight in “the Lord’s instruction,” who delight in obeying him, and in bringing his law to bear on every motive of our heart and every word that leaves our mouths, whether spoken or posted on social media.